PIONEERING research is under way in Southampton to help sufferers of multiple sclerosis (MS).

A debilitating part of the condition is the loss of feeling and weakness in the arms and so research at the University of Southampton aims to improve mobility and function.

The project is being led by Dr Ann-Marie Hughes and is as a result of a £40,000 grant from the MS Society.

Some people living with MS already use robot machines to help improve their arm movements.

Others use functional electrical stimulation (FES) on their arm– where electrical currents activate nerves.

This team’s new project, called SAIL, is a combination of both the existing devices by controlling the amount of FES people receive so that they get exactly the right amount of help to achieve the task they are trying to practice.

Part of the study involves five patients with MS who experience arm weakness attending a series of onehour sessions over two months where they practise arm exercises while using the SAIL device.

Lucy Coggin is one of the people involved in the study.

The 40-year-old mum of two, who is a member of the Lymington branch of the MS Society, was diagnosed with MS four years ago and has since lost most of the feeling down her right side.

Earlier this year she completed a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for the organisation.

Lucy said: “Because I can’t feel my arm I don’t necessarily know what it’s doing. I’ve been known to carry round a pile of socks in my right hand because I can’t feel them.

“It’s like I’ve forgotten I have a right arm and have to think about using it. I was finding it quicker and less frustrating to do things with my left arm instead of persevering with my slow right hand.

“I think the trial is doing me some good, and it’s only halfway through. It’s vital that research like this is done. I’m only 40 but I feel washed up, I don’t work any more because I don’t have much arm movement but I could have a part-time job.”

Dr Ann-Marie Hughes, who is leading the study with research fellow Trish Sampson, said: “Being able to use your arm and hand is incredibly important for everyday things like washing and dressing, allowing us to remain as independent as possible. In addition to this it helps us be creative and helps us to express emotion, for example, being able to put our arm around a pet or friend.

“If successful this project could potentially lead to a new treatment to give people with MS better control of their arm movements.”