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MultiCare researcher wins NIH grant

Posted on Aug 21, 2014 ( comments)
FES device Jeanette Cason
Research participant Jeanette Cason, who suffers from PAD, says an FES device allowed her to walk pain-free for an hour.  
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a grant this week for research at MultiCare Health System that could bring relief to millions of people who suffer from peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

MultiCare Program Research Coordinator David Embrey, PhD, won the $230,000 grant, which will examine how an electrical stimulation device can help PAD patients walk normally.

PAD is a common circulatory condition, most often seen in the elderly, which narrows arteries and constricts blood flow to the legs. 

Many PAD patients are unable to walk due to pain. Up to 7 percent, or 560,000 Americans, endure a downward spiral of progressive pain, debilitating immobility, limb amputation and premature death.

FES helps pain and endurance

Dr. Embrey said his new device, a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system known as a Gait Myoelectric Stimulator, sends precise electrical impulses that contract lower leg muscles to aid walking.

His preliminary studies have shown the FES device improves walking endurance and reduces leg pain by up to 50 percent in PAD sufferers. 

Dr. Embrey, a physiotherapist, hopes the device will eventually replace conventional drug and arterial bypass treatments, which provide only temporary relief.

'I was able to walk pain free'

The new research, Saving Life and Limb: FES for the Elderly with PAD, is an 18-month project that begins Sept. 1. 

It will build on Dr. Embrey’s previous research, where PAD patients experienced marked improvements. One such patient is Tacoma resident Jeanette Cason, who could walk only four or five minutes without severe pain.

“I was asked to walk one hour six days a week for eight weeks, with the stimulator attached to each leg,” Cason said.

“By the end of the study, I was able to walk pain free for the full hour without breaks. It was very encouraging.”

Device may help with stroke, cerebral palsy

In the study, the device showed promise for treating other diseases, too.

“Our goal is to get this system on the market for multiple patient populations, such as adults with peripheral artery disease, stroke, sports injuries and heart problems; and children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders,” Dr. Embrey said.

Jeff Stonestreet, a Boeing electrical engineer, and Gad Alon, associate professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and a world authority on applying electrical stimulation in health care, will join Dr. Embrey on the research project.

Research funded by community

Dr. Embrey credited Angela Silva, grant administrator for the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation, for the success of his application, his first with the NIH’s National Institute on Aging. 

Dr. Embrey’s earlier FES studies were funded through community donations to the Research Institute.

“Two years ago, the Research Institute was the cause for our Rock the Foundation fundraiser,” explained Linda Kaye Briggs, executive director of MultiCare Health Foundation. 

“This study, with all its promising possibilities, would not have been possible without the generous support of people in the MultiCare community who understand and care about the future of medicine.”

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People interested in participating in Dr. David Embrey's upcoming research can contact him at 253-697-5255. You can also visit the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation website, where more information will be posted soon.

About The Author

susan woodward Susan Woodward
Susan is our Vitals blog editor. She is a former reporter who has written for multiple publications in the US and Australia. You can reach her at susan.woodward@multicare.org.

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