16 August 2023

Deep stimulation restores brain function years after stroke

Researchers have published the results of a phase I clinical trial of deep brain stimulation for stroke rehabilitation.

The first clinical trial showed that physiotherapy and deep brain stimulation is safe and restores brain function even several years after a stroke. The method is suitable for rehabilitation of chronic disorders associated with the effects of impaired blood flow in the brain.

The researchers used deep stimulation of the dentate nucleus, a part of the brain that regulates control over arbitrary movements, cognition, language and sensory functions. The first phase of the trial involved 12 patients who had suffered a middle cerebral artery stroke 12 to 36 months prior to treatment and who had persistent hand movement disorders of varying degrees of severity.

The researchers inserted electrodes into the patients' cerebellum. A pacemaker-like device delivered small electrical impulses to help the participants regain control of movements.

For several weeks, the patients underwent physical therapy with the device turned off. Researchers then activated the stimulator, and for four to eight months, the treatment combined physical therapy and brain stimulation. In 9 of the 12 participants, the treatment helped restore motor and other impaired brain functions, and there were no serious side effects in any of the patients.

Stroke patients are often left with upper extremity impairments, including weakened or impaired muscle tone and altered sensation. Although emergency medical care has improved the treatment of stroke in the acute phase, up to 50% of survivors are left with chronic disability. The new treatment method will help such patients recover. The researchers are planning a second phase of the trial with a larger sample.

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