Dr. Robert Rennaker and Dr. Michael Kilgard of the University of Texas, Dallas recently proved how nerve stimulation when paired with specific experiences, like movements or sounds, is able to reorganize the brain and even improve its function.
What they discovered could lead to new treatments for stroke, autism, tinnitus, and other disorders.
The researchers looked at whether by repeatedly pairing vagus nerve stimulation with a specific movement it would change neural activity in laboratory rats’ primary motor cortex. They paired the vagus nerve stimulation with movements of the front limbs in two groups of rats.
After a period of five days of this stimulation and movement pairing, the researchers examined the brain activity of the rats. Those who received the training together with the stimulation displayed large changes in the organization of the brain’s control system. Those animals receiving identical motor training without stimulation pairing didn’t exhibit any brain changes, known as plasticity.
Patients suffering from strokes or other brain trauma often have rehabilitation that includes repeated movement of the affected limb in order to regain motor skills. It is surmised that repeated use of the affected limb will cause reorganization of the brain which is essential to recovery.
Dr. Rennaker stated that there was a suggestion from the research that pairing vagus nerve stimulation with standard therapy could result in a more rapid and extensive brain reorganization. This would offer the potential for speeding recovery following a stroke.
He further stated “Our studies in sensory and motor cortex suggest that the technique has the potential to enhance treatments for neurological conditions ranging from chronic pain to motor disorders. Future studies will investigate its effectiveness in treating cognitive impairments”.
Vagus nerve stimulation has an excellent safety record in human patients that suffer from epilepsy. Therefore the technique researched provides a new method to treat brain conditions such as dyslexia and schizophrenia.
Future human patients may have access to more efficient therapies that are minimally invasive and avoid long-term use of drugs if the studies are confirmed.
To provide repeated movement of a stroke affected limb the TUTOR system has been in the forefront of physical therapy products. The HANDTUTOR, ARMTUTOR, LEGTUTOR and 3DTUTOR have been developed to provide intensive and active movement of disabled legs, hands, wrists, elbows and other upper and lower limbs. The ergonomic gloves and braces that make up the TUTOR system are connected to dedicated software that allows the therapist to fully customize the exercises to the patient’s movement ability. In addition the therapist can objectively and quantitatively evaluate and report on the treatment progress. The TUTOR rehabilitation system optimizes the patient’s motor, sensory and cognitive performance and allows him to better perform everyday functional tasks to improve their quality of life.
The TUTOR system is currently in use in leading U.S. and European hospital and clinics. They are fully certified by the FDA and CE and can be used at the patient’s home via telerehabilitation. See WWW.MEDITOUCH.CO.IL for more information.