03.10.2016 change 03.10.2016

Olsztyn/Neurologists built a device that measures muscle strength in ALS patients

Olsztyn neurologists have created a device that measures the strength of interosseous muscles in ALS patients. It allows doctors to check the effectiveness of experimental methods of treatment for patients with ALS.

In Olsztyn University Clinical Hospital for two years neurologists have been investigating the use of stem cells in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A characteristic feature of this disease is that it progresses at a constant rate. The effects of ALS include loss of muscle strength in the hands of patients, due to which they become less independent (for example, they are unable to lift a cup).

Doctors Olsztyn, who administer stem cells to patients with ALS as part of their research, did not have tools that would objectively indicate whether the strength of muscles in the hands of the patients remained stable or decreased (there is no biological marker which would indicate that - PAP). "Observations of patients or their relatives in this regard were not reliable and often depended on the well-being of the patient on a particular day" - said in an interview with PAP neurologist Tomasz Siwek, member of the team investigating the impact of stem cells on slowing down the progression of ALS. The team is headed by Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz.

Because tools for measuring hand muscle strength were not available on the medical market, Olsztyn specialists decided to create them. As a result of several months of work of doctors and mechatronics experts (in collaboration with the Institute of Fundamental Technological Research PAS in Warsaw) they created a device that measures the strength of the muscles in the hands of people with ALS. It looks inconspicuous: a small box with two triggers. Patients place their fingers on these triggers and forcefully press the tabs.

"The device is very simple, but of vital importance, because it measures the force of the pressure of the patient\'s fingers. The device is calibrated to tell us whether this force is weakening, it remains constant" - explained Dr. Siwek. He added that because the device is lightweight and small, patients will ultimately take it home, and the device will send the strength test results to doctors in the hospital.

"It will also improve the quality of life of these people, as they will not have to come to the hospital because of this" - said the neurologist.

The device for measuring the strength of interosseous muscles in ALS patients is now being tested in Olsztyn clinical hospital and in patients who undergo commercial stem cell treatments. Originators are already preparing a patent application. According to Dr. Siwek, the formalities related to patenting and manufacturing the device should be completed by the end of the year.

"We want to have approx. 100 of these devices" - the doctor said.

Apart from Prof. Maksymowicz and Dr. Siwek, Dr. Monika Barczewska and Szymon Nitkiewicz also worked on the creation of a device for measuring muscle strength in patients with ALS - all from the clinical hospital in Olsztyn.

In the study of the use of stem cells in patients with ALS that started two years ago, Olsztyn doctors administered stem cells to over 80 patients. Patients were divided into groups. The first group received stem cells obtained from the bone marrow, isolated and propagated in the laboratory, and the other group received stem cells obtained from umbilical cords (Wharton\'s jelly). Doctors administered stem cells only once to some patients, another group was given them several times.

According to the summary of the first stage of treatment, the efficacy is 70 percent. "The efficacy lies in the fact that the progression of the disease has been slowed down. In different patients the slowdown rates were different - some patients did not respond at all, others had an average response, and there was a group above the average, the patients who responded better than others" - said Prof. Maksymowicz in June at a scientific conference summing up the first phase of the project.

Olsztyn doctors not yet know why ALS patients react differently to stem cell therapy. According to their preliminary assessment, of age of the patients who participated in the experiment did not have any effect. The full results of their research will be known in a few years.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is an incurable disease involving the destruction of the nerve cells responsible for the work of muscles, including the respiratory muscles - at a certain stage of the disease, patients are not able to breathe independently. The disease has a different progression pace and leads to death. Stem cell therapy only slows the progression of paralysis, but it does not restore the function of damaged nerves.

Dr. Siwek told PAP that patients with ALS are fully aware of what is happening to them during the whole period of the disease. "These patients suffer enormous mental anguish, they realize that at a certain stage of the disease their functioning is totally dependent on others" - the doctor said.

Joanna Wojciechowska (PAP)

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