Tracking gait and balance changes in people with MS

Professor Mary Galea

The University of Melbourne, VIC

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Project | 2019 | Investigator Led Research |


Medications currently available for MS aim to keep people free from relapses and slow progression of their disease. However, current tests used in clinics for walking and balance are not sensitive enough to pick up some of the more subtle signs of disease activity. Using laboratory-based measuring systems, Professor Mary Galea and her team have shown that they can detect subtle changes in walking and balance in people with MS, even when there isn’t any obvious sign of disease progression.

Better ways are urgently needed to monitor disease progression so that we can test the effectiveness of medications for progressive MS and develop ways to measure these small changes in the clinical setting to adjust the management and treatment of MS for individuals.

This project is using sensors attached to the torso and legs to measure changes in walking and balance in people with MS over time. These devices can also be used to develop a new measure of walking stability called the Local Divergence Exponent, which the team believe might be possible to match up with changes to the brain and spinal cord shown on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Progress to Date

In the first year of the project, 20 participants were recruited and assessed, and one has now returned for a repeated assessment. The process of recruiting and assessing participants has gone very smoothly, and participants have enjoyed the experience and were very interested to see their results. Summary reports from the assessments have been made available to the neurologists who have found them clinically useful. A study database has been established.

To date, the walking and balance measurements taken in people with MS are consistent with the team’s previous findings of reduced speed, increased double support (the use of support equipment for both sides of the body) and reduced balance for people with MS compared to people who did not have MS that were matched for age.

The use of wearable sensors is proving to be very useful clinically, in that they are easy to use, acceptable to people with MS and provide immediate data on various walking parameters (speed, step length, step width etc), and balance.

Going forward, Professor Galea’s team will compare these baseline study results with measures taken at subsequent clinic visits. More sensitive outcome measures such as this will mean that clinicians can determine the comparative effectiveness of existing treatments, and adapt them to improve outcomes for people with MS.

Updated 18 June 2020

Updated: 05 January, 2019

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years


Grant Awarded

  • Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $206,743


  • 4 years - starting 2019

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