A brain stimulation technique under investigation through Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the MGH Institute of Health Professions (MGH IHP) could offer new hope to the 800,000 individuals who suffer a debilitating stroke every year.
The technique, called Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), targets the lost mobility and paralysis that occur when the brain’s critical neurons die as a result of blood deprivation during a stroke. “One of the most disabling effects of a stroke is the loss of the ability to use the arm and the hand,” notes Leigh Hochberg, MD, Director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at MGH.
To counteract these effects, Dr. Hochberg and college Teresa Kimberley, PhD, Director of the MGH IHP Brain Recovery Lab, are exploring the potential of VNS, already in use for epilepsy treatment, to stimulate neuron activity through the vagus nerve in the neck. During the therapy, study participants receive a neurostimulator implanted in the chest wall, with exercise repetition paired with a mild electrical pulse.
“You want to engage the neurons that are still viable,” says Kimberley. “We’re trying to re-teach the brain to find a new way to do what it can’t because of the stroke.”
The technique is already showing promise, with participants demonstrating significant improvement in mobility after 90 days compared with those who did not receive it. Enrollment in the study is ongoing.
Read more at WCVB.