“The cool part about the PoNS is that we’re actually seeing improvements that restore mobility and balance”
Kim Kozelichki took a deep breath and began to walk along a hot pink string on the floor as if it were a tightrope. The way her husband, Todd, cheered her on, you’d have hought the string was 10 feet off the floor.
“Come on, Kim! Go! Go! Go!” he said. When she finished flawlessly, her husband of 17 years stopped recording video on his phone and looked at her. “Wow, Kim. That was unbelievable.” Unbelievable because just mere months ago, Kim wouldn’t even attempt to walk along that hot pink string. She was afraid she’d fall over. Diagnosed with elapsing/remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in May 1997 at the age of 26, the former collegiate tennis athlete used a wheelchair for long distances. Tremors forced her to stop using a pen.
Looking at her now, you’d never know thanks to a promising study at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute. Kozelichki is one of five participants in a pilot study to determine if a device called the PoNS, along with a strict regimen of physical therapy, can help those with neurodegenerative diseases regain what they’ve lost. A battery-powered device, the PoNS — developed by a trio of researchers at the University of Wisconsin — is placed in the mouth where thousands of nerve endings on the tongue can send messages to the healthy areas of the brain. The idea is that the stimulation, in combination with therapeutic exercise, helps the brain form new neural pathways for ecovering functions like balance and movement. Those skills are vital for those affected by MS, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, strokes and Parkinson’s disease.
“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. “For most people with MS, their motor skills get worse. Rarely do they maintain or improve.”
Kozelichki takes pills morning, noon and night, but none of those medicines has done what the PoNS seems to do.
“She’s gone from dragging a leg to jogging,” said Todd Kozelichki. “We can now go for walks together. That’s something we haven’t been able to do in years.”
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