Technology / Empowering the mind to heal the brain for stroke

Empowering the mind to heal the brain for stroke

How scientists are exploiting loopholes in the brain to give stroke victims their movement back.

Stroke patient whose hands have been paralysed have been able to manipulate objects by using their mind to open and close a device, a study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis has found.

Participants in the study were able to mentally control the device with the help of a brain/computer interface and were able to train the uninjured parts of their brains to take over functions previously performed by the injured areas.

Areas of the brain that control limb movement are generally on the opposite side of the body to the limb in question, but about a decade ago it was discovered that a small area of the brain still played a role in planning movement on the same side of the body.

The discovery found to move the left-hand specific electrical signals to indicate movement first appear on the left side of the brain, but within milliseconds the right-sided motor areas become active and take over to move the left hand. In paralysed stroke victims this signal goes nowhere, as the other side of the brain is inactive.

But by using a specially developed cap which detects electrical signals in the brain when placed on the patient’s head and a movable brace that fits over the paralysed hand, this quirk can be taken advantage of. The device detects the wearer’s intention to open or close their hand when it is indicated on the same side, then moves it in a pincer-like grip accordingly.

Eric Leuthardt, a professor of neurosurgery at the Washington University School of Medicine said: “We have shown that a brain-computer interface using the uninjured hemisphere can achieve meaningful recovery in chronic stroke patients.

“The idea is that if you can couple those motor signals that are associated with moving the same-sided limb with the actual movements of the hand, new connections will be made that allow the uninjured areas of your brain to take over control of the paralysed hand.”

This article was published in our Business Reporter Online: Revolutionising Healthcare.

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