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 PoNS device

General overview

The PoNS device is a non-invasive neuro-modulation technique, via electrical stimulation of the tongue, which acts on the cranial nerves. 

The tongue is the organ with the highest density of nerve endings and receptors in the body. Electrical stimulation activates the receptors in the tongue that transmit signals to the two cranial nerves that connect the tongue directly to the brain stem.

It was originally developed by Prof. Bach-y-Rita, one of the pioneers of neuroscience research in the 1960s, as a neurosensory stimulation substitute for sight. It improved motor performance in individuals and was developed in its current form by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Tactile Communication and Neural Rehabilitation Laboratory (TCNL).


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Main objectives of the method

A device is placed on the tongue to stimulate it electrically to stimulate two cranial nerves: the facial nerve and the trigeminal nerve. Electrical stimulation of the cranial nerves creates a flow of neural impulses that are then transmitted directly into the brain stem. From the brain stem, these impulses travel to the brain and activate or reactivate neurons. Based on this theory, it is believed that PoNS-induced neuromodulation, combined with functional therapy, can improve a wide variety of neurological symptoms.

Specificities of the method

The device that provides the stimulation is placed on the tongue (anterior part) and contains 143 electrodes. The impulses are delivered to the tongue in triplets of pulses at intervals of 5 ms every 20 ms. 
Why is this? Brain injuries and certain neurological disorders disrupt the ability of neurons to function properly, causing one or more of the following disturbances :
The frequency of neural signals may be too low. Weak signals decrease the ability of the rest of the brain to receive signals and can lead to learning problems.
The frequency of neural signals may be too high. High signals lead to overstimulation and may be hypersensitive to light, sound, and movement.
Neural signals may last too long. When neural signals are too long, the brain is unable to distinguish one signal from another. The result is a "noisy brain" that is unable to process information effectively. 
The PoNS device triggers the brain's homeostatic mechanisms by sending electrical signals into the interneuronal system. The signals are thought to stimulate altered interneurons and recruit existing healthy neurons, allowing the brain to compensate for the loss of function and induce neuroplasticity. Over time, the brain begins to form new neuronal pathways and may be able to function more normally without the device.
The device is currently difficult to obtain, as the technology has been rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to lack of data, and is currently under review by the European Union. Canada is the only country that has already approved it.

Who is this method for ?

The PoNS can be used to solve chronic balance disorders, among other things. The PoNS device has also shown promise in the treatment and reversal of the following symptoms:

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Acquired brain injury

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Chronic pain

Some of the most significant improvements have been seen in approach and balance. Improvements in cognitive functions, including memory, attention and mood, have been observed in many clinical trials. In addition, there was a significant recovery from visual dysfunction.

What parents say about it

"As promised, here's my testimony after 8 weeks with the PoNS:
I feel a little stronger, but maybe it's due to the physiotherapy. 
I have to admit that I met 2 patients with minor TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) who told me that they found PoNS helpful.
But I must also admit that I have met more than 2 patients who saw no benefit from the device. »

"For those of you who have followed and wondered about the PONS device over the past 5 years, I would like to tell you about my experience. I have PMSS and I walk with a cane. I should probably use a walker, but I'm stubborn! Like many of you, I have watched the very impressive YouTube videos on the PONS. I've read the impressive published studies. I've followed the FDA decisions closely. I have subscribed to the Helius Technologies e-newsletters. I was so pleased to see it become available in Canada. After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I decided it was worth the investment. It is a 14-week program. I left the United States for Canada in July. I spent 2.5 weeks in Montreal. I met other people from the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries. They were also there for the PONs. Most of them had MS. Many had Parkinson's disease or had a stroke. For the 2.5 weeks, I trained daily using the PONS machine. I returned home to the U.S. on August 2 with the promise to return at weeks 5, 8, 11 and 14 for evaluation and follow-up. I flew to Montreal and stayed overnight for these subsequent trips. I continue to do the exercises with the PONs machine and am in my 12th week. So far I have had no results. I have had no improvement in my walking. My balance and hips may be a little stronger, but I attribute this to the hours of physical training. Although I only talk about my experiences, I have not seen anything significant in the other people I have met.

This machine was one of our few hopes, but it didn't work for me. As my husband used to say, "You wouldn't know that if you hadn't tried." So this is my experience. It was expensive and time-consuming. Now I have my answer about the PONs device. My advice to others is to seriously consider going to Intensive EA to build up your strength and gain some stability. The PONs device didn't work for me at all. »

Scientific references

Human translingual neurostimulation alters resting brain activity in high-density EEG
"Neuromodulation, for example through PoNS®, has been linked to improved functional outcomes in brain injury and disease, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain elusive. We report the first results of EEG changes in resting brain activity after a single 20-minute session of PoNS®. Although the high and low frequencies of PoNS® produced significant changes in alpha and theta wave activity, HF stimulation showed different dosing effects. High-frequency PoNS® also resulted in a significant increase in attention microstates, suggesting a possible functional mechanism associated with signs of improved neuroplasticity. Overall, these results support continued characterization of the underlying neural mechanisms related to the use of neuromodulation to promote functional recovery through neuroplasticity. »

Translingual Neurostimulation (TLNS): Perspective on a Novel Approach to Neurorehabilitation after Brain Injury
"We have never observed any over-stimulation or "over-dosing" effects with PoNS or any adverse effects.  However, consideration should be given to the possible occurrence of minor episodic discomfort or episodes of mild headaches during developmental or adaptive stages. »

Any remarks or comments ?

This work is based on a collaborative approach to sharing research and family experience.

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