Muscle Stimulation for Physical Function During Stem Cell Transplant

  • End date
    May 13, 2026
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    VA Office of Research and Development
Updated on 9 April 2023


Some blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic (hematologic) cancers such as Hodgkin/Non-Hodgkin lymphomas, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and multiple myeloma, are over-represented in Veterans due to exposures including Agent Orange and an increased percentage of patients of African American ethnicity. Hematologic transplantation (HCT) is a common treatment for these cancers, but often leads to deconditioning, fatigue, muscle atrophy, and poor quality of life, which are associated with complications such as hospitalization and infection. Despite the significance of these symptoms, there are no approved treatments to prevent/reverse these long-term effects. The cancer itself, side effects of chemotherapy, and sedentary behavior, contribute to these effects. Although exercise before and after HCT has helped reduce these effects, it is inconsistently recommended to patients and most remain sedentary through and after treatment. The investigators are testing an alternative exercise strategy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, to maintain physical function quality of life after HCT.


Hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) reduces physical function and muscle mass and increases fatigue. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), when used as a stand-alone intervention, improves muscle strength and muscle mass in non-cancer patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic heart failure. The use of NMES to combat disuse atrophy and functional decline may be particularly useful in the HCT setting as patients undergo intensive preparatory chemotherapy and often experience symptoms including severe fatigue that leave them inactive or isolated for extended time periods surrounding the transplant. However, its use in the setting of cancer has not been well-established. This proposal will contribute to developing strategies toward optimizing the safety and outcomes associated with HCT in Veterans with hematologic malignancies. The overall goals of this study are to assess 1) the efficacy of an NMES vs Sham intervention on HCT-induced reductions in physical function and muscle mass and worsening of patient-reported fatigue and QOL and 2) the association between physical function and prolonged recovery of patient-reported fatigue and QOL. The investigators hypothesize that 1) NMES will attenuate the acute HCT-induced negative impact on physical function, body composition, QOL, and fatigue compared to Sham intervention, and 2) baseline physical function will be a significant predictor of 6-month recovery of patient-reported fatigue and QOL. Aim 1: To determine the efficacy of NMES vs. Sham for attenuation of HCT-induced reductions in physical function, muscle mass, and patient-reported QOL and fatigue in patients undergoing autologous HCT. Patients will be randomized 1:1 (NMES:Sham) stratified by diagnosis. Physical function, body composition, QOL, and fatigue will be assessed at baseline (Pre, after admission to the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit but before initiation of preparatory chemotherapy) and 28 plus or minus 5 days after HCT (Follow-up 1; FU1). The primary outcome will be between-group difference in 6MWT change at FU1 compared to Pre (N=23/group; 46 total). Secondary outcomes include: body composition measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry; previously validated questionnaires (Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Fatigue; Muscle and Joint Measures) to assess patient-reported fatigue, QOL, symptom burden, and functional status; standard of care clinical/laboratory data regarding co-morbidities, adverse events, hospitalizations, treatment history, functional status, and clinical course; and NMES process measures such as feasibility, acceptability, adherence in number of sessions, accurate use, duration/intensity, complications, and satisfaction. Aim 2: To determine predictive ability of baseline 6MWT on delayed recovery of physical function, QOL, and fatigue, patient-reported outcomes, physical function, and chart review will be collected 6-months after HCT (FU2). 6MWT at Pre will be used to determine significant predictors of QOL and fatigue at FU2 (N=46) as assessed by previously validated questionnaires. Clinical measures extracted from medical charts will include changes from FU1 to FU2 in standard of care clinical/laboratory data regarding co-morbidities, adverse events, hospitalizations, functional status, treatment history, disease trajectory, and survival. Aim 3 (exploratory): To investigate the acute impact of NMES vs. Sham during HCT on various aspects of physical function and patient-reported QOL for determining potential endpoints for future clinical trials. Exploratory measures of function (stair climbing power; muscle strength; sit-to-stand; handgrip strength; peak oxygen consumption) assessed at Pre and FU1 will be used to determine significant predictors of exploratory QOL measures (Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory; Short Form-36; European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer QOL Questionnaire) assessed at FU2.

Condition Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant
Treatment RS-4i Plus Sequential Stimulator (RS Medical, Vancouver, WA)
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04364256
SponsorVA Office of Research and Development
Last Modified on9 April 2023


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

adequate cognitive and language ability to provide consent
Veteran enrolled in MTU at VAPSHCS for planned standard of care autologous HCT

Exclusion Criteria

active deep vein thrombosis or thrombophlebitis
untreated hemorrhagic disorders
concomitant study inclusion in other nutritional or physical exercise interventional trials
concomitant use of anabolic agents
rhabdomyolysis or other muscle conditions where NMES is contraindicated
implanted cardiac device
baseline patient-reported muscle soreness of 5-6 on the soreness likert scale that is unrelated to recent physical exertion
history of prior hematologic stem cell transplant
probable or definitive liver cirrhosis
reduced renal clearance defined as Stage 4 chronic kidney disease (glomerular filtration rate <45 ml/min/1.73 m2)
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