Shocking New Therapy For Stroke Recovery
(Inside Science TV) - About every 40 seconds, someone somewhere has a stroke. Every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke. They can strike anytime and affect anyone.
Now scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas are studying a new way to help stroke survivors regain any physical abilities that were lost after a stroke.
Daniel Hulsey, a Ph.D. student of cognitive neuroscience at UT Dallas said, “We want to be able to restore that function by restoring circuitry in the brain.”
To accomplish this, researchers turned their attention to the vagus nerve, the nerve that tells the brain how the body is doing.
“When you stimulate this nerve, you send a signal up into the brain that [indicates] what just happened is really interesting and important,” said Michael Kilgard, a neuroscientist at UT Dallas.
When electrical pulses stimulate the nerve, the brain releases chemicals from different areas and essentially re-organizes itself. This enables the brain to learn new tasks.
"We’re taking areas that are spared – the remaining neurons nearby that are intact – … and having them shift some of those resources over,” to the areas that are affected by the stroke, explained Kilgard.
In animal studies, scientists stimulated the vagus nerve while rats performed rehabilitation exercises. When the nerve was stimulated, the exercises completely reversed the mice's stroke-induced paralyses.
“We found that animals that had paired vagus nerve stimulation [with] motor movement recovered not only faster than animals that got rehab alone, but they recovered fully back to the level prior to their stroke,” said Navid Khodaparast, a neuroscientist at UT Dallas.
The electrical pulses are painless and last just a half of a second. A similar study will soon be conducted on human subjects. Researchers are hoping to see the same promising results.
Vagus nerve stimulation is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating other conditions such as depression and epilepsy.
It’s a treatment that could someday help millions regain the motor function they lost after a stroke.
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Navid Khodaparast, The University of Texas at Dallas