New Technology ‘Rewires’ Brain to Help Stroke Patients Regain Use of Their Arms

When the brain suffers a stroke, the flow of oxygenated blood is interrupted. This deprives neural cells of that oxygen, and can damage or even kill them. This is the reason stroke victims can lose functions such as the ability to speak or use their bodies the way they did before the incident. A new treatment program is using nerve stimulation in combination with physical therapy to help bolster the ability of stroke patients to regain use of lost motor function.

The treatment is still in the experimental stage, under clinical research that is still looking for volunteers, but the early signs are promising. Doctors at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio are investigating the treatment to determine if it can be developed into a viable and widespread treatment option for stroke patients. The therapy is vivistim, and requires the implantation of a neurotransmitter into the chest. The device is only placed just below the skin, so the surgery is not invasive. Once in place, the transmitter stimulates the vagus nerve. When it’s operating, the treatment attempts to create new neural pathways in the brain by taking over missing signals, using direct stimulation of the nerve to encourage the brain to adapt to the stroke damage. Other conditions have been able to benefit from vagus nerve stimulus, such as epilepsy.

Key Points:

  • 1Vivistim nerve therapy, combined with physical therapy, can change the way doctors approach stroke recovery.
  • 2A neurotransmitter connects to the vagus nerve in the neck, which sends signals to the brain to prepare the pathways used in physical therapy.
  • 3There’s an ongoing clinical trial at the Neurological Institute at Ohio State University that is still recruiting stroke patients as participants.

The purpose of the device is to help “rewire” circuits in the brain that control motor functions.

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