Whenever the medical community discovers a noninvasive way to repair a problem hitherto requiring surgery, it’s always a reason to celebrate. Take a recent breakthrough achieved by researchers at the University of Cairo in Egypt. They have developed a noninvasive method of brain stimulation, which can help partially paralyzed stroke patients regain a significant amount of muscle function.
The study included 60 people who suffered an ischemic stroke (caused by reduced blood flow to the brain) and were left with mild to moderate muscle weakness on one side of their bodies. Twenty of these patients received transcranial magnetic stimulation applied for a five-hertz (Hz) session daily for 10 days over the side of the brain affected by the stroke. Another 20 patients received a one-Hz session of the unaffected side of the brain for the same time period, and a further 20 received placebo treatment sessions over a 10-day period. All the patients underwent the same physical therapy.
The research team assessed the patients at the start of the study, and at two, four, eight and 12 weeks.
They found that, when they compared the results between the three groups, both of the magnetic stimulation treatment groups showed significant motor function recovery. No improvements, however, were seen in the control group who had received placebo treatment and the same physical therapy.
To understand the results of the study, it’s useful to know a little background information on what happens in the brain during a stroke. Scientists believe that people develop partial paralysis down one side after they have a stroke because the right and left hemispheres of the brain become unbalanced. The hemisphere that has not been affected can become overactive, while the damaged hemisphere can become inhibited.
And that’s where the magnetic stimulation treatment comes in. The treatment worked on the theory that increasing the activity of the hemisphere affected by stroke and reducing the activity of the unaffected hemisphere can reduce muscle weakness and improve overall motor function.
It’s an exciting discovery and no adverse effects were observed during the study. The researchers say that it is time to test the therapy in larger, multi-center trials.