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Electronic Bodysuit Could Treat Neurologically Impaired

Aspecially-designed elastic bodysuit covered with electrodes, which was designed at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in collaboration with health care and business partners, could be used to help those suffering with brain damage or neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers at KTH say that the Mollii garment provides an alternative to painful treatments and surgery by treating the body with electrical stimulation. The result is reduced pain perception and an improved range of motion.

The suit was originally designed by Swedish chiropractor Dr. Fredrik Lundqvist, who conducted rehabilitation therapy for brain-damaged patients. Lundqvist thought of sewing electrical stimuli electrodes, similar to TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) into garments that the patient can wear. He approached KTH researchers in the Department of Machine Design, who produced a prototype of the device.

How It Works

The bodysuit, made of ordinary swimsuit material, has conductive elastic sewn into it, with electrodes located at the major muscles. Battery-powered light current is conducted via silver wires to 58 electrodes attached to the inside of the garment which, in turn, stimulate up to 42 distinct muscles, according to the patient’s needs. Batteries are placed in a small control box fitted at the waistband.

The researchers say that the electronic suit should be used for a few hours three times a week and users should engage in stretching exercises during the treatment. The therapeutic effects should last for up to two days, they say.

The garment was used in patient examinations performed in collaboration with a PhD student at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute. Every one of the 100 participants said that they experienced improvements in existing function or quality of life.

Stroke patients with paralysis on one side said that they gained increased mobility in spastic limbs, had improved gait, and their arms and hands worked better after treatment. In addition, users reported that they often slept better, and their speech improved after using the Mollii suit.

Treating patients with movement difficulties and pain due to neurological damage can often require surgery, injections of botulinum toxin (neurotoxin), or strong medications. These types of treatments usually mean high costs and the risk of possible side effects, while the researchers say that the suit is simple and safe to use. This therapy can be used in the home, reducing the need for hospitalizations. And, when mobility increases, there is less need for walkers or wheelchairs.

The Mollii is a CE mark-approved medical device, and is available through the Swedish health care system as a personal tool prescribed by physical or occupational therapists. In Denmark, the garment is already subsidized with municipal funds for treatment of nerve damage, based on recommendations from a physiotherapist.

KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden,
http://www.kth.se/en