Public Release: 

New study improves monitoring of treatments for multiple sclerosis patients

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have developed an algorithm that, when paired with wearable sensors, provides more informative and effective monitoring of the way MS patients walk

University of Sheffield

  • Pioneering research in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) set to collect patient data under 'real life' conditions to improve monitoring of treatments and disease progression
  • Over 100,000 people have MS in the UK with around 5,000 newly diagnosed every year
  • Research could help clinicians monitor condition more accurately for first time and assess effectiveness of treatments
  • In the UK, 75 per cent to 90 per cent of people with MS have mobility problems
  • Research could benefit other conditions such as Parkinson's Disease

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have developed an algorithm that, when paired with wearable sensors, provides more informative and effective monitoring of the way MS patients walk in real life.

The improved monitoring of the way MS patients walk will help clinicians more easily assess the effectiveness of existing treatments and disease progression in MS patients.

The pioneering study, Free-living and laboratory gait characteristics in patients with multiple sclerosis is published today (Tuesday 1 May 2018) in the journal, PLOS ONE.

Assessing the way a person walks (gait) is often used as an indicator in the early stages of MS - a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. Mobility problems affect 75 per cent to 90 per cent of people with MS.

Up until now, gait analysis has only been carried out in laboratories. Doctors at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals approached researchers at the University of Sheffield and asked them to help find a way to measure how patients walk in 'real life' conditions.

Dr Claudia Mazzà, a researcher based at the Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine at the University of Sheffield, said: "The measurements we take of people with MS in a lab may not be an accurate representation of their everyday condition. Having data from real life scenarios will help clinical staff assess a patient's condition more accurately. For patients this will mean better treatment as a result of clinicians being more informed about their condition.

"We started off by checking that our portable sensor was accurate, comfortable and able to give the same results as a lab based sensor. We then developed an algorithm (computer program) specific to the patient's condition (in this case MS) which processed the measurements taken from this sensor.

"We ensured this algorithm was capable of handling and processing data from complex movements outside labs. Although this is a small study, the results are encouraging and it gives us enough information to progress to a large scale clinical trial."

Dr Sivaraman Nair, Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: "Assessing the changes in the way patients with MS walk is key to understanding the progression of disability. It is particularly important to look at these indicators at an early stage as it can also tell us about the effectiveness of the medication they are taking.

"Currently, mobility of MS patients is assessed in specialised gait laboratories. The relevant technologies can be expensive and require highly skilled personnel. The impact of this research could therefore be significant for patients as well as cost-effective.

"The potential applications of this research are not just limited to MS but could be used for other conditions that could benefit from monitoring gait, such as Parkinson's disease."

The next stage of the research will involve working with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre (for Translational Neuroscience) to conduct a larger clinical study.

Innovative Medicine Initiative and pharmaceutical companies are investing €50 million in research linking digital assessment of mobility to clinical endpoints to support regulatory acceptance and clinical practice.

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Read the full study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0196463

Media contact: Mary Hickey, Media and Communications Officer, on 0114 2221034 or email m.o.hickey@sheffield.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations. To read other news releases about the University of Sheffield, visit http://www.shef.ac.uk/news

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is one of the UK's largest NHS Foundation Trusts and one of the largest and busiest teaching hospitals. We have over 16,000 staff caring for over two million patients each year at our five hospitals and in the local community:

  • The Royal Hallamshire Hospital
  • The Northern General Hospital
  • Charles Clifford Dental Hospital
  • Weston Park Cancer Hospital
  • Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital

We offer a full range of local hospital and community health services for people in Sheffield as well as specialist hospital services to patients from further afield in our many specialist centres. The Trust is recognised internationally for its work in neurosciences, spinal injuries, renal, cancer, transplantation, neurosciences and orthopaedics.

Thanks to the hard work and commitment of our staff and volunteers, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been given an overall rating of 'Good' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with many services rated as 'Outstanding'.

This means the Trust is one of only 18 (out of 174 Trusts) to have achieved a Good rating in every one of the five domains which the Care Quality Commission use to rate a NHS organisation: Safe, Caring, Responsive, Well led, Effective

The Trust is a recognised leader in medical research for bone, cardiac, neurosciences and long term conditions such as diabetes and lung disease. We also play a key role in the training and education of medical, nursing and dental students with our academic partners, including the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. The Trust is a recognised leader in healthcare innovation and is host to a number of national projects including the Perfect Patient Pathway Test Bed, Devices for Dignity, Yorkshire and Humber Genomics Centre as well as being a partner in the Working Together Vanguard and National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine.

For more information visit: http://www.sth.nhs.uk

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

Improving the health and wealth of the nation through research. Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:

  • Funds high quality research to improve health
  • Trains and supports health researchers
  • Provides world-class research facilities
  • Works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • Involves patients and the public at every step.

For further information, visit the NIHR website http://www.nihr.ac.uk.

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