“Bionic clothing” is all about making mobility devices less obvious. Patients and their therapists want forward progress without the bulk. And the latest design weaves function with fabric.

Paula Prentiss was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2003.

“Right from the beginning it’s been a gait issue,” she said. “My foot, left foot, drags.”

For the last four years, she has worn a simple device that helps keep her foot level.

“At this point I just want to walk better,” she said.

And she wants to continue her active lifestyle.

“Whatever I can try that I think I can do, I do,” she said.

At the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Prentiss recently took something new for a test run.

Jon Sakai is the director of commercialization at Cionic Inc.

“It is a bionic legging that is designed to assist mobility,” he said.

Called the Cionic Neural Sleeve, the wearable delivers electrical stimulation to four muscle groups. The device is geared toward patients with MS, incomplete spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy.

“It detects movement and muscle activity,” Sakai said. “So it relies on some movement of the individual at which point we have algorithms that trigger muscle stimulation to assist their movement where they need it. … We found 94% individuals in study had improved mobility with the device.”

Electrode arrays are embedded in the fabric of the sleeve and an external pack controls the level of stimulation.

“As the tech improves, the design then improves, and when the design improves people are a lot more interested in it. They are a lot more willing to wear something that is less obvious and weighs a few less pounds,” research physical therapist Matt Giffhorn said.

Mobility devices range, some are bulkier than others, but all share a common purpose.

“Mobility is the most important indicator of health,” Sakai said. “And so we want people to have pride when they are improving their mobility.”

“I felt more balanced and that is amazing right there,” Prentiss said. “All I can think is exercise, exercise, exercise. And this is going to help me do that.”

The neural sleeve needs to be prescribed by a physician. Patients pay monthly, $200 over the course of 12 months, and can return the device if it doesn’t work out for them.