An elastic body suit fitted with electrodes could reduce pain for people with brain injuries and neurological disorders.
The garment provides people who have suffered brain trauma or with conditions such as MS or Parkinson's an alternative to painful treatments and surgery by treating the body with electrical stimulation to ease tension and spasms, reducing pain perception and increasing mobility.
The idea for the Mollii suit, designed at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology in collaboration with health care and business partners, originated from Swedish chiropractor Fredrik Lundqvist who works on the rehabilitation of brain-damaged patients.
He had the idea of sewing electrical stimuli – similar to TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) electrodes – into garments that the patient can wear and so approached KTH researchers Johan Gawell and Jonas Wistrand at the Department of Machine Design at KTH.
“They produced a prototype of the product, and today they are working full time on the development of Mollii,” Lundqvist said.
Designed with ordinary swimsuit material, the body suit has conducive elastic sewn into it with electrodes located at the major muscles and batteries stored in a small control box fitted at the waistband.
Battery-powered light current is conducted via silver wires to 58 electrodes attached to the inside of the garment, which in turn stimulate as many as distinct 42 muscles, according to the patient’s needs.
“The idea is that the clothes should be used for a few hours, three times a week, and the effect is expected to last for up to two days,” Lundqvist said.
Users are advised engage in movement through training and stretching during the treatment.
“To enhance the quality of life the patient may choose to use Mollii before it's time to go to work, school or to a social event. That enables the body to function as well as possible when it is really needed,” said Lundqvist.
Mollii is an approved CE-marked medical device, but independent clinical tests have yet to be performed. The company behind the treatment, Inerventions, has launched a scientific study of the clinical effectiveness of the garment in partnership with Sweden’s Rehab Medical clinics with results due to come out next year.
Traditional methods for treating patients with movement difficulties and pain due to neurological damage include surgery, injections of botolinumtoxin (neurotoxin) or strong medications.
“These treatments mean high costs and side effects, while our clothes are simple and safe to use,” said Lundqvist. “You can reduce the number of hospital visits because the therapy can be performed at home and when the mobility increases, there is less need for walkers or wheelchairs.”
The garment has been shown to be highly effective in patient examinations performed in collaboration with a PhD student at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, according to Lundqvist.
“One-hundred per cent of the participants in the survey say they have experienced improvements in existing function or quality of life,” he added.
Stroke patients with paralysis on one side have been found to gain increased mobility in spastic limbs, in that they had improved gait and their arms and hands worked better after treatment.
“As a bonus, the patients often sleep better, and their pharyngeal motor skills and speech improved after using Mollii,” Lundqvist said. “It can also help children with physical disabilities or motor difficulties in the feet, such as constantly walking on toes or with their feet at inward angles.”
Today, Mollii is available through the Swedish health care system as a personal tool prescribed by physical or occupational therapists and the garment can also be purchased directly from Inerventions.
In Denmark, the garment is already subsidised with municipal funds for treatment of nerve damage, based on recommendations from a physiotherapist.