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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
New device designed to restore brain functions – via the tongue
cientists at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison have created a device known as a PoNS, that shows promise for
the treatment of traumatic brain injuries, strokes, or the effects of diseases
such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Researchers at the U.S. Army
Medical Research and Materiel Command are now conducting a study on the device,
which works by stimulating the patient’s tongue.
The battery-operated PoNS consists of a
control/power box, and a flat electrode-covered oral portion that the patient
holds in their mouth, against their tongue. In a typical 20 to 30-minute PoNS
session, the patient performs a set of physical, occupational, and cognitive
exercises, tailored toward their disability.
Each of those exercises are paired with
specific patterns of electrodes being activated on the PoNS, which in turn
stimulate individual nerve endings on the tongue – the stimulation process is
referred to as cranial nerve non-invasive neuromodulation, or CN-NiNM.
By learning to associate specific nerve
impulses from the tongue with specific activities, the brain reportedly starts
to form new neural pathways for functions such as balance. Over time, this is
said to increase its organizational ability, potentially allowing the patient
to regain control of mental or physical functions.
In a study conducted at the University of
Nebraska, a group of test subjects with multiple sclerosis received regular
treatment with the PoNS device. After eight weeks of therapy, they showed a “50
percent improvement in postural balance, a 55 percent improvement in walking
ability, a 48 percent reduction in MS impact scores and a 30 percent reduction
In the latest study, the Army has joined
forces with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and NeuroHabilitation
Corporation, which is commercializing the technology. The year-long evaluation
of PoNS will begin this month, and will focus largely on the treatment of
brain-injured soldiers. It is hoped that the research will lead to U.S. Food and
Drug Administration clearance for the device.