Kathy Miska, 56, of Strongsville, Ohio is fighting multiple sclerosis one step at a time.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, disrupts signals from the brain and often robs people of their mobility.
Miska is one of five MS patients at Cleveland Clinic taking part in a research study to see if a special robotic brace, or exoskeleton, will benefit her mobility.
“By doing what we would call a ‘forced use,’ the hope is that you’ll reprogram the brain so that it actually can work better and create better walking,” said Francois Bethoux, M.D., Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and principal investigator of the study.
The device is programmed to each person who uses it. Braces support the lower body and carry the user. Motors are triggered by sensors to lift the legs, assisting the patient to walk.
“It’s an interactive machine,” said Dr. Bethoux. “So, not only does it generate power – it has little motors to generate power at the joints – but, it also senses what’s happening and what movements the device is kind of starting to make.”
Miska comes to the lab for one hour sessions, three days a week– hoping the device will help retrain her brain to walk.
“With MS, the circuitry gets short-circuited and then it has to find alternative passages to get your leg moving or walking and it helps build that memory,” Miska said.
Therapy sessions are hard work – but according to Miska, they’re well worth the effort.
“When I would get out of the exoskeleton I just noticed that I would have a little bit more automatic response with my leg and that was very encouraging,” she said.
Dr. Betoux said the preliminary study, which is currently full, will help determine who may benefit from exoskeleton therapy.
He hopes to do a larger, more comprehensive trial in the future.