Tracking gait and balance changes in people with MS

Professor Mary Galea

The University of Melbourne, VIC

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Project | 2019 | Investigator Led Research |


Medications currently available for MS aim to keep people free from relapses and to slow progression of their disease. However, current tests used in clinics for walking and balance are not sensitive enough to pick up some of the more subtle signs of disease activity. Better ways are urgently needed to monitor disease progression so that we can test the effectiveness of medications for progressive MS and develop ways to measure these small changes in the clinical setting to adjust the management and treatment of MS for individuals. Using laboratory-based measuring systems, Professor Mary Galea and her team have shown that they can detect subtle changes in walking and balance in people with MS, even when there isn’t any obvious sign of disease progression.

This project is using sensors attached to the torso and legs to measure changes in walking and balance in people with MS over time. These devices can also be used to develop a new measure of walking stability called the Local Divergence Exponent, which the team believe might be possible to match up with changes to the brain and spinal cord shown on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Progress to Date

After a successful first year recruiting participants for the study, the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 – 2022 in Melbourne meant that further recruitment was considerably delayed. To date, 58 participants have been recruited and had first assessments measured, with 17 participants now past assessment number 3. Participants have enjoyed the experience and have been very interested to see their results. Summary reports from the assessments have been made available to neurologists looking after the participants, who have found them clinically useful. A study database has also been established.

To date, the walking and balance measurements are consistent with the team’s previous findings of reduced speed, increased double support (the use of support equipment for both sides of the body) and reduced balance for people with MS. The researchers have developed an algorithm for automatic calculation of walking stability to help measure balance and they aim to test this outside of the laboratory in real life environments that people with MS may encounter.

The use of wearable sensors is proving to be very useful clinically, in that they are easy to use, acceptable to people with MS and provide immediate data on various walking parameters (speed, step length, step width etc), and balance. Additionally, the sensors have proven to be accurate in their data collection, which is important for future research.

Going forward, Professor Galea’s team will compare these baseline study results with measures taken at subsequent clinic visits, which are anticipated to increase in 2022 as COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. More sensitive outcome measures such as this will mean that clinicians can determine the comparative effectiveness of existing treatments, and adapt them to improve outcomes for people with MS. We look forward to further study findings.

The results of this work has been presented at the International Motor Impairment Conference (virtual) in November 2021, at the MS Australia Progress in MS Research Scientific Conference in April 2022, the Human Movement Variability Conference in May 2022, and looking ahead, a presentation is scheduled for the 9th World Congress on Biomechanics in July 2022.

Updated: 31 March 2021

Updated: 05 January, 2019

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years


Grant Awarded

  • Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $206,743


  • 4 years

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Tracking gait and balance changes in people with MS