Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Tactile Communication and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory believe that they may have developed a new treatment process that can lead to considerable improvements in people who have experienced a variety of brain injuries. Specifically, they believe that they key to reversing the debilitating, lasting effects of TBI like multiple sclerosis could be located in the human tongue, as the stimulation of sensory receptors may lead to improved brain function.
The stimulation in question is a process known as cranial nerve non-invasive neuromodulation or CN-NiNM, and it involves 20 to 30 minutes of electrical stimulation at the tip of the patient’s tongue, delivered by a specific pattern of electrodes, according to a report by the Niagara Gazette. The researchers then paired the CN-NiNM procedure with specialized exercises, and the results of their study have shown significant promise.
Patients with multiple sclerosis reported “a 50 percent improvement in postural balance, 55 percent improvement in walking ability, a 30 percent reduction in fatigue and 48 percent reduction in M.S. impact scores”, according to the Niagara Gazette. Additionally, the scientists point to the ongoing recovery of a woman named Kim Kozelichki, who suffers from MS and has been using the Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator tongue device in her rehabilitation.
The combination of the CN-NiNM and standard physical and mental rehabilitation allows the brain to create brand new neural pathways, which in turn helps patients regain their normal body functions. Kozelichki has been using the PoNS device in conjunction with a similar study at the University of Nebraska’s Munroe-Meyer Institute.
“The cool part about the PoNS is that we’re actually seeing improvements that restore mobility and balance, which is the complete opposite of what drug therapies are after – slowing the degradation,” said Max Kurz, Ph. D., the director of biomechanics at MMI and lead investigator of the study, according to the University of Nebraska. “For most people with MS, their motor skills get worse. Rarely do they maintain or improve.”
Thanks to these findings and others, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command is interested in using the CN-NiNM procedure and PoNS device in the recovery of soldiers who experience brain injuries during combat.