A research team led by a Plymouth University academic has received more than £350,000 funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to trial a new intervention designed to help people with progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Dr Jenny Freeman, Associate Professor in Physiotherapy in Plymouth University’s School of Health Professions, is leading a feasibility study of a balance and falls management programme for people with secondary progressive MS, thanks to £367,110 from the NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme.

Secondary progressive MS is characterised by an accumulation of disability; meaning people with the disease are proven to be at higher risk of poor balance and falls. 

Successful completion of the 20-month study will enable the team to apply for funding to run a full-scale trial to assess the effectiveness of the management programme – known as BRiMS (Balance Right in Multiple Sclerosis) – in reducing falls and improving the quality of life for people with MS. 

BRiMS combines exercises and education for people at the more debilitating stage of the disease. The 13-week programme is based on the PhD work of Dr Hilary Gunn, Lecturer in Physiotherapy in Plymouth University’s School of Health Professions. It uses evidence from several of the research team’s previous studies and includes work with patients and hands-on MS and rehabilitation experts. 

The feasibility study is being carried out in collaboration with the Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit at Plymouth University, the Universities of Glasgow and Exeter, the NIHR South West Research Design Service (RDS) and NHS Ayrshire and Arran. The study is sponsored by Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. It aims to recruit 60 participants from Plymouth, Exeter, Cornwall and Ayrshire. 

Dr Freeman said that very little currently exists in the way of secondary progressive MS interventions, and she hoped the feasibility study would allow a full trial to take place to measure BRiMS’ effectiveness. 

“Currently there are very few resources available for people with secondary progressive MS,” she said. “And BRiMS was designed to help fill that gap. It is not to ‘tell people what to do,’ but to ‘support people to help themselves’. Self-help guidance, exercise programmes with video support and an innovative imagery technique developed by Professor Jackie Andrade and other colleagues in the School of Psychology at Plymouth University are all part of the programme, and we want to see if it’s something that can be used effectively to help a person manage their own condition.

“However, in order to establish whether a full trial can take place, we need to find out whether enough people with secondary progressive MS will take part; if the tests we conduct are fair and well-received; and if the methods are reasonable. We are very pleased that the NIHR has funded this first step, which will enable us to identify and overcome any potential problems prior to a full trial taking place.”

Our research - Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research

Our research

From basic research discovering the causes of disease, through to evaluating novel ways of delivering care to the most vulnerable people in society, our thriving community conducts adventurous world-leading research

The Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research acts as a gateway to those undertaking research and innovation in the areas of health and community

Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research

Inspired by this story?

For more information about studying physiotherapy, please visit our BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course page. For more information about our range of courses within the School of Health Professions, please visit the school page.

Want to find similar alumni?

If you would like to find out what other alumni from the Faculty of Health are currently doing, please visit the health and social work interest area.