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New robotic device helps multiple sclerosis patients take easier, healthy steps

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Posted at 8:24 AM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 08:24:04-04

CLEVELAND — For the past 10 years, Kathy Miska has faced one of her biggest challenges.

“I was diagnosed 23 years ago with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis,” she shared. “It’s become progressive. My mobility has been challenged much more.”

Miska, a former teacher, went from relying on a cane to being completely dependent on a walker.

“I’ve always tried to just kind of stay on top of it as much as I could and modify things as much as I could,” she said.

Her multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis came after a variety of symptoms, which worsened over time. Eventually, doctors discovered a legion on her brain and later Miska started losing her vision.

“I had a lot of numbness. I had Optic Neuritis, so I was losing my vision. It’s very common for a lot of people to be diagnosed that way. It’s an onset indicator,” Miska explained. “It [MS] just keeps attacking.”

With an MS diagnosis Dr. Ashley Christopher, a physical therapy specialist with the Cleveland Clinic, says there is usually no clear cause.

“Researchers believe that there's this interplay of genetics and environmental factors that do cause it,” she said. “Some common symptoms tend to be sensory changes, so feeling numbness, tingling in the hands, feet or somewhere in the body...sometimes people first notice weakness in either one area, maybe a hand, or feeling like they can't lift up their foot. It's a very variable presentation and even more so variable on what their first symptom may be.”

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Robotic device helps MS patients walk.

While MS is typically diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, it affects more women than men and it makes basic functions like walking difficult as it did with Miska.

"My physician wrote me a prescription for some physical therapy and when I went in, they had just gotten this Exoskeleton suit at the Cleveland Clinic…and so they asked me if I would like to try it on and walk around in it,” she explained.

Miska would become one of 21 women to participate in the hospital’s study accessing this new device and its effectiveness on MS patients.

"Once they're in the suit, it actually has sensors and software that is designed to provide them the appropriate amount of assistance while walking. So, if somebody has no voluntary control over their legs, then the device is able to provide all the support for a standing walking function,” Christopher explained. “We can adjust the device to provide just enough to give them a successful, healthy step… it helps to work on step laying, timing of walking [and] all these things that are really needed.”

The robotic suit received FDA approval this month for use in patients with MS. According to a press release, “Cleveland Clinic’s clinical trial was one of the first pilot studies to determine its potential efficacy for this population of patients. It was funded by a generous donor and a Cleveland Clinic Caregiver Catalyst Grant.”

After 24 sessions lasting about an hour, Miska says she taking more healthy steps forward as she believes, “the whole experience truly helped me.”