Canadian Researchers Examine the Benefits of Translingual Stimulation (PoNS) Combined with Physiotherapy in Multiple Sclerosis

Drs. Michelle Ploughman (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and Sarah Donkers (University of Saskatchewan) are set to lead the first Canadian clinical trial examining the benefits of translingual stimulation (PoNS) and physiotherapy in improving walking and balance for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Over 75% of people living with MS experience walking and balance problems, thus finding appropriate interventions to improve mobility function is important.

Drs. Michelle Ploughman (left) and Sarah Donkers

According to Dr. Donkers, “Research suggests that intense physiotherapy can help improve walking and balance function for people with MS, but it is not yet known if there are added benefits from pairing physiotherapy with neuromodulation delivered through the tongue. More research is required to see if PoNS will indeed be a useful adjunct therapy to physiotherapy training.”

PoNS (portable neuromodulation stimulator), marketed by Helius Medical Technologies, is a non-invasive medical device that delivers electrical stimulation on the surface of the tongue to excite neural activity in the brain. This process is believed to enhance brain neuroplasticity, in other words, it can help the brain to restructure, relearn, and potentially restore lost function1. There is some evidence that the use of PoNS in combination with physiotherapy can improve gait deficits in a small subset of people with MS although additional research is needed2,3. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have authorized the use of PoNS for short-term treatment (14 weeks) of gait deficit due to mild to moderate symptoms from MS1.

The goal of the clinical trial is to evaluate the potential benefits of combining physiotherapy with the PoNS device versus physiotherapy alone. Results from the study will help advance our understanding of brain neuroplasticity in the context of walking and balance training in people with MS.

The University of Saskatchewan and Memorial University of Newfoundland are currently recruiting individuals with walking impairments from their MS to take part in the trial. If you, or someone you know, is interested in participating, please visit the MS Society of Canada’s research portal for more information.

References:

  1. Helius Medical Technologies. (2021). The Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (PoNSTM) Device). https://heliusmedical.com/index.php/divisions/heliusmedical/the-pons-device
  2. Tyler, M.E., et al. (2014). Non-invasive neuromodulation to improve gait in chronic multiple sclerosis: a randomized double blind controlled pilot trial. Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 11: 79. doi: 10.1186/1743-0003-11-79
  3. Leonard, G., et al. (2017). Noninvasive tongue stimulation combined with intensive cognitive and physical rehabilitation induces neuroplastic changes in patients with multiple sclerosis: A multimodal neuroimaging study. Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical, 3(1): 2055217317690561. doi: 10.1177/2055217317690561

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