The idea doesn’t seem very appealing to me, but a company is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a product that might help people with MS walk better by mildly stimulating the tongue.
The portable neuromodulation stimulator (PoNS) is a flat device about half the size of a credit card, with electrodes on the end. Placed on the tongue, the stimulator sends a mild electrical current through the tongue as a pathway to the brainstem. The hope is that the electrical signals will increase the brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to rewire itself to bypass damaged nerves and recreate connections by using others.
PoNS isn’t used all the time or when a patient is alone. Rather, the treatment incorporates 20 minutes of brain stimulation into physical or occupational therapy, along with cognitive exercises. It’s hoped that the combination of therapy and stimulation will improve balance and gait in people with multiple sclerosis.
MS is a “disease with a significant unmet medical need, particularly in addressing associated gait dysfunction,” said Philippe Deschamps, CEO of Helius Medical Technologies, the company that makes the device. Deschamps hopes the PoNS unit will give people with MS “a non-drug, non-implantable treatment that has the potential to significantly improve their ability to walk.”
Not a done deal
The company’s FDA application is the first of a two-step process. If the FDA determines the product to be safe and effective, it will assign a risk classification and approve PoNS for sale in the U.S. The Canadian government already has cleared the PoNS device for short-term treatment in that country.
Risk versus benefit
I’ve used a different type of electrical stimulation for my MS, a Bioness L300 Go. This device stimulates a nerve in my leg to help raise my left foot, which drags when I walk. I’ve had mixed results, and the stimulation can be uncomfortable.
I haven’t found information about how patients in clinical trials of the PoNS device have reacted to electrical stimulation of their tongue. But knowing how sensitive my tongue is when I accidentally bite it, I think I’d have a little trepidation before using this device. On the other hand, if it would help my balance and gait, I might try it.
PoNS could be one more risk-benefit decision for people with MS. What would you do if offered this new treatment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Also, you’re invited to visit my personal blog at: www.themswire.com.
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