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Laser Technology Allows Parkinsonism Patients To Walk Again

posted 31 Jan 2014, 06:14 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 Jan 2014, 06:15 ]

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have developed a device that re-routes brain signals in Parkinsonism disorder patients, allowing them to regain mobility.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDAUNITED STATES (REUTERS) - With the help of a walkin frame equipped with laser technology, Wayne Puckett can get around on his own, something he couldn't do four years ago.

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Puckett, 48, has a form of Parkinsonism, a neurological disorder that destroys the brain's ability to control motor skills. The syndrome shares many of the symptoms common in

people with Parkinson's Disease - which can be the underlying cause - but is also often related to other neurological conditions.

A former postal worker and father of five, Puckett remembers when the disorder took hold.

"I feel like I lost being a man. You lose your job, your occupation and it wasn't from a financial standpoint, it was from a health standpoint. And it is a hard thing to take and you feel like less of a person. You know, your kids, you are not able to do as much and they see it," he said.

In 2010, Puckett met Dr. Jay Van Gerpen, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. At the time he was wheel-chair bound, but Dr. Van Gerpen told him he had a device that could get him back on his feet that same day.

"I thought he was crazy," said Puckett. "He told me that he has a little red line that was going to be able to make me walk. I was like ain't no way. And he said will you give this thing a try and I was like whatever. And he gave me this thing and I was like wow. And it worked," he added.

That little red line is generated by what Dr. Van Gerpen calls a mobilaser, a laserdevice attached to Wayne Puckett's walker. Dr. Van Gerpen says it helps unravel the neurological traffic jam in Puckett's brain caused by his disease, giving him control over his movements again.

"There is a part of the brain when you want to initiate walking in the prefrontal cortex in the basal ganglia and if those areas get damaged than those signals don't get to the primary motor cortex. That is the part of the brain that actually controls voluntary muscle movement," he said.

Van Gerpen says the laser line acts a visual queue, that prompts Puckett's brain to bypass the signal jam and use another route to connect the prefrontal cortex to motor cortex. When his patient focuses on stepping across the laser-generated line, he automatically utilizes the visual part of his brain rather than the damaged area that controls motor output.

"We are capitalising on the parts of the brain that are working quite well to help compensate for those that are not."

Wayne Puckett says the laser beam has given him back his life. He says he feels more independent and looks forward to facing the future, one step at a time.