A recent clinical trial, published in Stroke, has come forward with results showing that a new form of electrical stimulation therapy can aid in the rewiring of the brain. This leads to the restoration of a certain level of dexterity in a patient’s hand that has been paralyzed due to stroke.
According to the lead researcher of the study, Jayme Kuntson, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, during the experimental therapy, the good hand was used by patients in order to help the brain in regaining control over their hand that had been paralyzed.
Patients were made to wear a glove, having sensors, on their functioning hand. The signals were then transmitted to the electric stimulators that were attached to their paralyzed hand. This allowed the muscles present in the paralyzed hand to mirror the movements being made by the good hand. The patients were told to think about opening both of their hands simultaneously. The electrical stimulations being sent by the good hand to the paralyzed one helped inert muscles to mimic the movement of the functioning hand.
“We think we’re training the brain,” added Knutson. “The stimulation coincides with the patients’ attempt to open their hand. That sort of puts the brain back in control, in a roundabout way. The brain is active in attempting to open the hand.”
While electrical stimulation has been utilized in therapy in order to restore lost movement in paralyzed hands, till now these stimulations opened or closed the said hand automatically. The new clinical trial allows the patient’s brain to participate as well.
The current trial consisted of 80 stroke survivors. The study went on for 12 weeks. Half of the participants made use of the new electrical stimulation therapy. The rest used the standard form of electrical stimulation therapy that opened and closed their paralyzed hand mechanically.
Participants used the electrical stimulators assigned to them at home for at least 10 hours per week. All of the participants also practiced hand tasks in front of an occupational therapist for at least 3 hours each week in a lab setting.
In order to measure the attained level of dexterity all of the participants were given a standard dexterity test prior to and six months following their therapy. The test measured the amount of blocks that the participants could pick up, lift over a hurdle and then put it back down in another area on a platform under 60 seconds.
The results showed that individuals who had used the new therapy performed better than the ones in the control group. An average of 4.6 blocks were able to be moved by these participants when compared to the results of the test taken prior to their therapy. This was also 1.8 blocks better than the ones who only received the standard form of therapy.
The researchers also reported that greater improvement was seen in people who were provided with the new therapy in less than 2 years after they experienced a stroke. Such patients were able to show an improvement of 9.6 blocks when compared to the 4.1 block improvement by individuals only receiving the standard therapy.
The results showed that people shouldn’t wait to receive therapy after experiencing a stroke in order to attain better results. This is because the brain is capable of early recovery if people don’t wait around and make it learn habits that are tough to reverse. The researchers also reported that a total of 97% of the participants receiving the new form of therapy shared that they felt their hand was better when compared to the beginning of the study.
According to Daniel Lackland, a professor of translational neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, allowing the participants to involve the brain in the new form of therapy helped in the recovery of the nervous system. The electrical stimulation provided by the senor-laden glove aided in promoting the biological electrical system present in the inert hand.
It has been said by both Knutson and Lackland that a larger follow-up trial needs to be conducted before the current technology can be submitted to the FDA for approval. It will probably be a few years but Lackland added that they’re moving in the right direction.