Brain stimulation could help restore use to stroke-affected limbs

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center are using brain stimulation therapy to help restore some use to stroke-affected limbs.

According to a press release from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), the study is the first to use transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for people with severely disabling arm impairment due to stroke. The study was led by principal investigator Michelle L. Harris-Love, PT, PhD, a member of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Repair and director of the Mechanisms of Therapeutic Rehabilitation (MOTR) Laboratory at MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

“Little research has looked at this severely impaired population — most is aimed at improving relatively mild movement impairments — and, as a consequence, no validated treatment is available to help those with the most severe disabilities,” Rachael Harrington, a fourth-year PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at GUMC, stated in the release. Harrington noted between 30% and 40% of strokes result in chronic upper arm impairment.

The 30-patient, proof-of-principle study showed the side of the brain not affected by the stroke may play a role in the control of affected arm movement in patients who have one arm “frozen” to the side of the body.

Future research will assess whether repeated stimulation to the unaffected side of the brain can “teach” it to control the impaired arm, Harrington stated.

She added, “These findings offer promise that these patients may be able to gain function, independence and a better quality of life.”

TMS is currently approved by the FDA only for drug-resistant depression but is being tested as a possible treatment for a number of brain disorders, according to the release.


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