Stroke victims have a reason to finally smile as a new therapy approach promises to help them recover greater use of their paralyzed leg and/or arm. In a recent study, researchers managed to demonstrate that indeed, broken sensory nerve connections can be reconstructed without surgery, but using two therapies at the same time.
The technique combines functional electrical stimulation (FES) and brain-computer interface BCI to help “resurrect” the use of paralyzed limb (arm/leg). In most cases, paralysis happens to be the most general but hard to bear effects of a stroke. Fortunately, research now seems to have a solution for treating this effect.
Communication Between Nerve Pathways
While the approach may not be something completely out of the horizon, this is the first time experts considered deploying two therapies at the same time on stroke effects (FES + BCI). The therapy works to help reestablish communication between nerve pathways, which ideally corrects how signals come in and go out of the nerve segment endings.
“The goal is to stimulate those nerves thought to have been silenced by the paralysis. This should be the work of the brain. But as the part of the brain tasked to do this may no longer be active enough, the therapy steps in to help reestablish the links between (the brain) and the nerve pathways,” explains Jose del R. Millan, one of the scientists involve in the research, which was pioneered by the Defitech Foundation Brain and Machine Interface.
Degrees of Paralysis
The work, which also appears in the latest issue of Nature Communications focused on mid-age and aged adults of between 36 to 76, and involved 27 volunteers with varying stroke effects. A section of the patients had moderate paralysis, while for the rest the cases were considered as severe arm paralysis occurring less than a year prior to the dual-therapy.
Representing half of the volunteering team, 14 of the patients took the dual-therapy and the results found a significant lasting improvement in the ability to initiate control of their affected arms. The other half of the volunteers took the functional electrical stimulation (FES) treatment only and acted as a control team to help monitor progress.
Hunting for the Brain Signals
Now, the scientists introduced the BCI system to access the patient’s brain response, linking the same to computers via electrodes. The exact task was to pinpoint the specific areas the electrical signals showed up in the brain as the patient tried to pick something using the affected arm.
When the electrical activity was spotted the system immediately stimulated the concerned muscle in the wrist and finger to have it respond to the signal. Patients in the “control” group had their muscles stimulated but not as often as the first team. That was done on purpose to help establish the motor-function improvement that could directly be attributed to the BCI system and the reliability of the same.
Reactivated Tissue and How this Changes Stroke Effect Therapy
What makes the research outstanding is that some patients in the first group registered a significant improvement in arm mobility within the first ten one-hour therapy sessions. Using a special test that evaluates motor recovery on post-stroke hemiplegia, called the Fugl-Meyer Assessment, a good number of the patients in the first group improved in their mobility twice in score compared to their counterparts.
The scientists also found an overall increase in connection among the motor cortex areas of their damaged brain, which corresponded with the overall ease in undertaking the associated tasks.
This might, without doubt, be the complete game changer of the way effects of stroke should be treated, because, even after 6 and 12 months – looking at the progress of the patients, their recovered mobility from the dual-therapy was maintained.