Could brain stimulation help stroke survivors?

Could brain stimulation help stroke survivors?

A new treatment method could be used to help people recover from strokes.

Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine found that optogenetically stimulating mice's brains five days after a stroke led to an improvement in their condition.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research could aid the development of brain-stimulation therapies similar to those used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, chronic pain and epilepsy.

Strokes are the world's second-largest cause of death, affecting 15 million people every year.

The only approved drug for use in patients affected by the condition is an injectable medication called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA.

Although this can limit the damage if it is used within a few hours of a stroke, it only benefits around five per cent of patients, because many do not arrive at a medical centre in time for the treatment to be administered.

The new technique was found to work as long as five days after a stroke. In addition, the optogenetics method avoids the problems associated with other brain stimulation techniques as it does not affect all cell types in the affected area.

It works by expressing a light-sensitive protein in specifically targeted brain cells. When it is exposed to light of the right wavelength, this light-sensitive protein is activated and causes the cell to fire.

The researchers targeted the brain's primary motor cortex, which is involved in regulating motor functions. 

They discovered that stimulating the area in mice affected by a stroke led to improvements in their motor coordination, balance and muscular strength.

Mice were able to walk further down a rotating rod than mice which had not had brain stimulation. They also regained more lost weight and showed enhanced blood flow in their brain.

Follow up tests are to take place to determine whether the recovery is sustainable in the long-term. They are also examining the effect of the technique in other parts of the brain to find out which are the most amenable to interventions.

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