A soldier would bite down on the battery powered device for about 20 or 30 minutes while carrying out a series of physical, occupational or cognitive exercises tailored specifically to treat his impairments, according to the Army. The idea is to improve the brain's organizational ability and allow the patient to regain neural control.
Researchers say the tongue is an efficient sensory link to the brain because of the thousands of nerve fibers that make up its surface.
The device, which was developed by NeuroHabilitation Corporation with support of Marine veteran turned TV celebrity Montel Williams, is called a Portable NeuroModulation Stimulator, or “PoNS.” Pons is actually a formation of nerve fibers located on the brain stem whose main purpose is to pass information between the cerebellum and cerebrum.
Williams in 1999 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which disrupts communications between nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease can cause a broad range of neurological and physical impairments.
Williams said he learned of the research from a magazine article and contacted the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where it was being done. He joined a study within the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
"The third day there I said we need this in the mouths of our soldiers," Williams told the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md.
Col. Dallas Hack, director of the USAMRMC Combat Casualty Care Research Program, said collaborating with the university NeuroHabilitation Corporation will enable the Army to “maximize [its] resources to explore a potential real-world treatment for injured service members and civilians with a variety of health conditions."
Testing will include a collaborative study with researchers and clinicians at the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell, Ky., home to the Warrior Resiliency and Recovery Center.
There will also be additional patient testing at veteran and civilian medical institutions, according to the Army.