Scientists have developed a new dual therapy approach that could make it easier for stroke patients to recover mobility and motor functions in future.
The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne study utilised a combination of a brain-computer interface (BCI) with functional electrical stimulation (FES) to help stroke sufferers to recover the use of their paralysed arms, with the positive effects lasting years after the stroke.
For this research, patients who had experienced moderate to severe arm paralysis following a stroke were fitted with a BCI system to linking their brains to computers, allowing the team pinpoint the electrical activity in their brain tissue when they tried to move their arm.
Based on this pattern recognition, the system was able to stimulate the arm muscle controlling the corresponding wrist and finger movements. A significant improvement in arm mobility was seen after only ten hour-long sessions, with patients' scores on an assessment used to evaluate motor recovery shown to be more than twice as high as those from individuals whose FES treatment was not paired with BCI.
Furthermore, EEG scans showed a clear increase in the number of connections among the motor cortex regions of the patients' damaged brain hemispheres, corresponding with an increased ease in carrying out the associated movements. When evaluated again six to 12 months later, the recipients did not lose any of their recovered mobility, suggesting this could be a treatment approach with lasting benefits.
Jose del Millan of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne said: "The key is to stimulate the nerves of the paralysed arm precisely when the stroke-affected part of the brain activates to move the limb, even if the patient can't actually carry out the movement. That helps reestablish the link between the two nerve pathways where the signal comes in and goes out."
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
Find an occupational therapy job at JustOT, a genuine specialist in NHS and private sector recruitment.