Biogen explores music therapy to improve walking in MS through partnership with MedRythms
Today marks the fourteenth World MS Day, a day dedicated to the experiences, challenges and aspirations of the 2.5 million people living with multiple sclerosis around the world.
Neurological condition mainly diagnosed in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. Some of the defining features of the disease and the most difficult to treat manifestations involve problems with gait, walking and mobility.
Around 80% of all people with MS develop walking problems within 10-15 years of diagnosis and these problems can include poor balance and coordination, weak and stiff muscles and partial paralysis of the muscles used to lift the foot when stepping forward. – a symptom known as foot drop.
To date, there has been a dearth of options for improving or maintaining walking in MS outside of adherence to physiotherapy or the use of mobility aids such as canes, crutches and orthoses.
However, a new and innovative treatment modality that MS patients will be able to practice from the safety of their own home in the form of music therapy may be upon us.
Music therapy in its simplest form has been around since the 1950s and has been shown to be particularly beneficial for helping people with communication difficulties and psychiatric disorders, as well as for child development.
However, Portland-based digital therapy startup MedRythms is trying to take things to the next level by taking a software and hardware approach to more directly harness the neuroscience underlying music therapy – helping the brain establish new connections directly through a process known as neuroplasticity.
For anyone who thinks the treatment seems somehow woolly, ultra-experimental, or something that only belongs on the very periphery of medical science – think again.
Pharmaceutical giant Biogen has thrown its considerable clout behind MedRhythm’s research into a digital music-based therapy to help people with MS by pledging an initial $3 million to develop and commercialize the product line. MS of the company known as MR-004.
This amount could reach $117.5 million if certain development and commercialization milestones are reached in addition to royalties on possible sales.
Addressing Biogen’s collaboration with the company, which is also actively researching the application of music therapy for stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, Martin Dubuc, Head of Biogen Digital Health, said “As part of our digital health aspiration, together with MedRhythms, we aim to advance an innovative new treatment option for people with MS that could help with gait disturbance, a common problem that has impact on their overall quality of life.
Explaining the fundamentals of MedRhythm’s MS research, Brian Harris, the company’s CEO and co-founder, and one of 350 neurological music therapy specialists and practitioners worldwide, says, “Regardless of age, culture, ability or disability, everyone’s brain objectively reacts to music.”
He continues: “The two fundamental principles are what we call global activation and neuroplasticity. So what research shows is that when we as humans passively listen to music that we love, it engages or activates the parts of our brain that are responsible for movement, language, attention, memory, emotions and executive functions. Quite simply, there is no other stimulus on earth that engages our brains like music does.
Not on pace
The auditory and motor components of the human brain are intrinsically connected at a deep subconscious level. Music, or more specifically its rhythmic production, serves as a natural trigger for movement. Hence the urge to dance or tap your feet when you hear a catchy melody.
MedRythym’s technology, which uses sensors in the patient’s shoes to collect data on gait parameters such as stride length and cadence, as well as specialized algorithms to match this to the musical output at the using a mobile device and headphones, reinforces the innate coupling of the auditory and motor systems. using external beat cues.
Over a period of time, rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) through a process known as entrainment can lead to improvements in gait and mobility by encouraging the brain to forge and activate new neural pathways and connections. – by taking advantage of the elementary plasticity of the brain or its ability to rewire itself.
After taking baseline measurements, the music is then adapted and personalized to the patient’s neurological circuitry to achieve pre-determined functional gains such as increased speed or step quality and symmetry.
In terms of what the patient hears, the music must be precisely matched to the tempo of their walk and this is done through an algorithmic selection and mixing process.
It should be noted that the patient listens to ordinary, everyday musical hits as one might hear on the radio, but with important characteristics subtly modified – for example, rhythm and salience of beats to reflect gait patterns and goals of the patient. patient.
As Harris enthusiastically explains, “So the way we have to mix the songs – it’s almost like a kind of healthcare DJ. It’s exactly like what DJs do, but rather than being for the people on the dance floor, we modify these inputs to meet a clinical need.
To facilitate access to rich and diverse content, the company has collaborated with Universal Music, which owns 40% of the world’s music and hopes to leverage this catalog in the future.
Currently, MedRythms, which was founded in 2015, is furthest along in terms of FDA approval and licensing for its stroke protocol, but is in the process of evaluating its MS offering through two feasibility studies.
The first is conducted at the Cleveland Clinic and the second at Massachusetts General Hospital.
There is real hope that one day soon, MR-004 could become the first-ever digital prescription treatment for walking problems in MS.
This would be a welcome addition to a critical area of unmet clinical need. Even though the algorithmic DJ in the cloud is the one who selects and mixes the tracks, it could well prove to be a most useful tool to help people with MS maintain their independence, rely less on others and walk a bit more at their own pace. own drum.