MS and Exercise Study: An Interview with Dr. Roger Enoka

Dr. Roger Enoka, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been working closely with physicians from the Rocky Mountain MS Center Clinic at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in developing a study testing neuromuscular electrical stimulation in patients with MS. The study is now accepting participants in or near the Boulder campus. For this month's Clinic News, we talked to Dr. Enoka for some more information.

Dr. Enoka, could you please tell us a little about your background and your role at CU Boulder?

I’m a professor in the Department of Integrated Physiology. I’ve been interested in fatigue for several decades, and for the last few years I’ve been developing a collaborative project with Dr. Vollmer and Dr. Corboy at the Anschutz Medical Campus. I’ve been at CU Boulder since 1996 and we basically study neuromuscular physiology in healthy adults and in various clinical populations.

Could you please describe this collaborative project and the specific intervention?

Our partnership is based around a project which is funded by National Institute of Health (NIH) and it is a pilot project to determine if a particular kind of intervention can assist in mobility with people in MS.

It’s basically applying electric shocks to calf muscles using a technique called neuromuscular electrical stimulation. When you apply these shocks, what it does is causes the muscles to contract and at the same time it sends signals back into the nervous system. That is why we’re particularly interested in this technology for people with MS, because it’s clear that this treatment can influence the function of the nervous system, certainly at the level of the spinal cord and perhaps even in the brain.

Has this type of intervention been tested in other types of neurological diseases or disorders?

No, this is the first time. It’s been tried in healthy individuals, in older adults with other kinds of chronic diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but it has not been tried with people living with neurological diseases yet, so this is a brand new endeavor.

Please describe the importance of finding participants for the study. 
It’s important because it’s a potential treatment to preserve mobility without resorting to drugs or various other pharmaceutical interventions. It’s essentially trying to encourage a person’s nervous system to maintain its function and slow down any declines that might cause a person to have more difficulty with walking, for example.

We are working to enroll 15 people in each of two groups. Each group will receive a slightly different protocol with this neuromuscular electrical stimulation which we can compare. We are quite sure that both groups will experience benefits, but we’re not sure if the two groups will differ in how much benefit they receive.

What will participants be asked to do and what will they receive?
Participants would receive the treatment for 6 weeks. We would do measurements before they begin the treatment, immediately after the 6 weeks of treatment, and then one month later so we can see how long the benefits stay. The participants will get a thorough clinical exam of muscle function, including measurements of strength, walking ability, and other health related questionnaires as well. In addition we will provide a stipend of $250 for participants who complete the six week project.

After the study has been completed, how will the results be shared?
Our intent is to publish the results in the Journal of Multiple Sclerosis. For sure we expect both groups to get some benefit from the treatment. Each participant will receive their own individual results as well as the group results overall. In addition, we’ll be quite willing to speak with patient groups about the findings and explain what we think the outcomes mean.

Is there anything that you’d like to share with potential participants?
We are extremely excited about this project. We’ve spent six months getting everything ready to go and we are looking forward to helping people improve their quality of life.