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Image of Jessica Falco (Research Assistant), Allison Robinson (OT), Shihan Perera (OT) and Melissa Colbeck (OT).
Left to Right: Jessica Falco (Research Assistant), Allison Robinson (OT), Shihan Perera (OT) and Melissa Colbeck (OT).

Winnipeg, MB – May 29, 2024 –The Riverview Health Centre Foundation (RHCF) is thrilled to announce that Allison Robinson, Melissa Colbeck, and Shihan Perera, researchers and occupational therapists (OTs) at the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) MS Clinic and Riverview Health Centre, have been awarded a grant from the Susan’s MS Research Fund to conduct research investigating functional electrical stimulation (FES) for upper extremity function in multiple sclerosis (MS).

The Fund was established through RHCF; it was created by the family and friends of Susan Blicq, a former resident at Riverview Health Centre, who passed away in 2012.  The Fund supports research that aims to improve the quality of life, rehabilitation, and symptomatic therapy outcomes for patients, families and caregivers during the challenging, progressive states of MS.

“In our clinical practice, people often share with us how difficult it is to lose hand function over time. In day-to-day life, using one or both hands is instrumental to most activities. As OTs we are always looking for effective treatment options. FES has a lot of potential to improve our patients’ hand function, independence, and quality of life, which is why we are excited to have the opportunity to add to research in this field,” said Robinson.

Upper extremity function is essential for many aspects of daily life. For example, it means being able to drive a motorized wheelchair or feed and groom oneself. Currently, occupational therapy for upper extremity impairments in people with MS tends to use adaptive aids or equipment, such as large-handled utensils, assistive technology, and custom hand splints. Alternatively, FES treatment involves strengthening the hand, which has the potential to prolong mobility and independence, leading to a better quality of life for MS patients.

“There are over 3,500 Manitobans affected by MS, so this study has an opportunity to make a substantial difference in the lives of many Manitobans,” said Bridgette Parker, Executive Director of RHCF. “The impact of this research will not only benefit those with MS but also friends and families through improved quality of life for their loved one. RCHF is pleased to be a part of this research.”

The study will use FES, which uses electrical stimulation to produce sequenced and timed muscle contractions to move. FES is not new to MS treatment; in the past, it has helped with mobility and lower extremity function. FES use on upper extremities has become a popular research topic in recent years, but most research has focused on stroke patients. Because of the differences between MS and strokes, the findings have not been easy to generalize.

“We are excited to be able to gather MS specific data to evaluate whether FES is a beneficial treatment option to improve grasp and release movements. If so, we hope to be able to offer it as a home rehab program. We are interested to measure what impacts it can have on strength, sensation, function, independence and quality of life,” said Colbeck.

Data will be collected from 40 people living with MS who have been referred to the MS Clinic at HSC or are in long-term care at RHC. The participants will complete an assessment before and after completing a 6-week upper extremity FES home program to determine the results.

“Although MS may impact hand function, we feel that there is a lot of potential for rehabilitation. We are hopeful that this type of treatment will offer patients a way to maximize and maintain hand function, even while living with a chronic progressive condition,” said Robinson.

The FES home program will focus on forearm grasp-and-release tasks, which are related to three everyday tasks (drinking from a cup, using a spoon, and operating a motorized wheelchair joystick). The FES home program will consist of 20 minutes of electrical stimulation while performing functional tasks, once a day for six weeks. After the study, if participants find the FES treatment beneficial, arrangements can be made for them to continue independently.


Riverview Health Centre (RHC) provides compassionate and progressive rehabilitation, palliative and long-term care. RHC provides specialized therapeutic and restorative health services to adult residents of Manitoba in a supportive environment that recognizes the cultural, spiritual, and ethnic diversity of our community. Innovation through education and research activities in collaboration with community partners is integral to the achievement of this mission. The Centre provides specialized inpatient, outpatient and outreach services which include rehabilitation, palliative care, complex continuing care, personal care, adult day programs and respite care, including those who have been diagnosed with MS.

Riverview Health Centre Foundation is an organization of dedicated volunteers and staff committed to helping those needing rehab, long term or palliative care live life to the fullest while receiving the quality of care they need to foster the best possible quality of life. Contributors to the Foundation are essential in meeting Riverview’s needs by providing funding for new equipment, special services, updated facilities, innovative programs – including Therapeutic Recreation, research, and education.