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.
After a successful first year of the project with participant recruitment, the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 in Melbourne meant that recruitment had to be suspended between March and November. However, new participants are again commencing the study and several have been reassessed. To date, 38 participants have been recruited and assessed, and six have returned for repeated assessment. Participants have enjoyed the experience and have been very interested to see their results. Summary reports from the assessments have been made available to the neurologists who have found them clinically useful, and a study database has 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 gait 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. 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.
Updated: 14 April 2021
Updated: 05 January, 2019
Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.
Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.
Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.