YOUR HEALTH: An added skeleton for MS patients

Doctors are using a robotic suit to reconnect the brain to the body
Credit: WQAD-TV

CLEVELAND — Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease.

It disrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body, slowly robbing many patients of their ability to walk, causing tremors, muscle paralysis numbness, and weakness. 

Now, a robotic exoskelton may help retrain the brain and keep MS patients like Kathy Miska up and walking.

Four days a week, you'll will find Kathy in a swimming pool.

It giver her something her body has stopped giving her.

"I have balance, I have buoyancy."

In the water, Kathy can forget about her MS, a disease that claimed the life of her sister.

"Her last 10 years of her life, she was a total vegetable," she recalled.  

"She couldn't control her eyes.  She couldn't wiggle a finger."

Now that same disease is slowly attacking Kathy.

"It feels like you're giving up a little bit of your independence."

In a move to regain her mobility, she strapped on a robotic exoskelton to retrain her brain and her body to walk normally again.

"I was always swinging my leg around to walk because I can't pick it up."

During the eight-week study, patients were put into the battery powered suit and walked the halls three times a week for about 30 minutes.

"You know, you do that repetitive motion so many times over and over again that eventually it gets instilled in your brain."

Doctors liked what they saw.

"Really the idea is to use the device to enhance the rehab so that when people go back home and do the exercise routine on their daily activities, their ability to perform these exercises on these activities is enhanced without using the device," said Dr. Francois Bethoux, Cleveland Clinic's physical and medical rehabilitation chairman.

It worked for Kathy.

"I'd be screaming to my husband, 'Oh my god, my leg's working, my leg's working'."

"It gives you so much hope when that's happening."

"Powered exoskeletons are currently approved by the FDA for rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord injury and post-stroke paralysis on one side of the body.

Another Breakthrough

A study by University of Iowa scientists shows that a type of human gut bacteria is as effective as an approved drug in blocking multiple sclerosis-like symptoms in a mouse model of the disease. 

The study led by University of Iowa assistant professor of pathology Ashutosh Mangalam provides more evidence that this bacterium, Prevotella histicola (P. histicola), may have potential as a treatment for MS.

The team compared the effect of P. histicola with the effect of a disease-modifying drug used to treat MS called Copaxone. 

They found that treatment with P. histicola was as effective in suppressing disease as treatment with Copaxone. 

"'P. histicola might be tested in patients who do not respond to Copaxone, as well as in new patients as an alternate to Copaxone or other disease-modifying therapies," said Mangalam.

The findings suggest the disease-suppressing activity of the bacterium and the drug work through different mechanisms. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.