Every year, there are 152,000 incidences of stroke in the United Kingdom. One dies every five minutes. Of all its victims in the country, only 1.1 million has survived to date. Surely, stroke tops the list of both mortality and morbidity causes. Whilst, we can do nothing for those who are unable to conquer death, we can still do something life-changing to those hit by stroke but we’re able to survive it. And, here’s the good news. Recent studies have found out a better way of therapy- brain stimulation!
But how extensive is the study? Research on animals already has its initial and promising findings! First trialed to mice, firing beams of light were directed at their brains and results showed that the action led to the animals moving faster and further than those not induced by the therapy. The research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, could also explain more in depth the manner of how the brain recovers after the ‘attack’ and thus, leading to the discovery of new treatments. Stroke happens when the supply of oxygen and sugar in the brain is cut off by a blood clot. Without these, brain cells die leading to the motor and sensory disabilities that follow. If the patient is fortunate enough, post- stroke care follows which is focused on rapid treatment to decrease the damage and facilitate brain recovery as much as possible. Directed on the latter, the research team from Stanford University School of Medicine has been all curious on the idea of stimulating the brain to reconnect the ‘defaulted’ wirings. Feeding up their curiosity is indeed all worth it! But how did they do it?
The keen researchers used a technique called optogenetics to induce stimulation in the motor cortex. This is the part of the brain that takes charge for voluntary movements. After seven days of regular stimulation, the affected mice were able to move and walk further down on a rotating rod but those not under it were not. And, just after 10 days, they were moving even faster!
What’s the theory behind it? Brain stimulation affects the wiring that has been damaged after a stroke. It prompts linking of higher level of chemicals to form new connection between the brain cells. The technology behind it called optogenetics makes use of an optic fibre that sends light to the brain, targeting the cells that are genetically designed to respond to light. Although, the team was able to conclude that it is indeed an effective way to reconnect the cells, and ‘repair’ the damage, the researchers are keen to explore the specific circuits that are affected and how they could be rewired.
For today, brain stimulation cannot be used to humans yet. But Professor Steinberg, one of the researchers, is hopeful for the future- once the precise circuits are identified and are amenable to human interventions, clinical trials can be started!