Oct 302007
Authors: Shannon Hurley

The National Institutes of Health have awarded $380,000 to CSU researchers to explore how brain stimulation affects the rehabilitation of arm movement in stroke survivors.

As a result, researchers have created the BRAINSTIM Project, a collaborative effort between the NeuroRehabilitation Research Laboratory (NRRL) and the Center for Biomedical Research in Music (CBRM), which “may change the approach to upper extremity rehabilitation for stroke,” Dr. Gerald McIntosh, a neurology consultant at the NRRL and medical director for the CBRM, said.

The study will use brain stimulation to excite affected areas of the brain along with intensive therapy to help restore movement in the impaired arm or hand of stroke patients. This will be accomplished through the use of an innovative research technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in conjunction with a constraint-induced rehabilitation method.

“(TMS) delivers impulses to areas of the brain that have been injured to help regenerate connections that help a person to recover,” said Dr. Michael Thaut, director of the CBRM and chairman of the Department of Music, Theater and Dance.

Areas in the brain affected by stroke generally have abnormally low excitability levels, and TMS uses a magnetic field to temporarily turn on undamaged cells in the brain, proving beneficial for patients to relearn how to use their body.

Study participants will work with researchers six hours a day for 10 consecutive weekdays, completing extensive constraint-induced therapy (CIT) in which participants perform routine tasks encountered daily, such as meal preparation, which incorporates repetition of both precision and gross movements.

“There’s a real interest in developing a combined program that involves something that impacts the nervous system and then allows (researchers) to use that through a very intensive, rigorous program of occupational therapy,” said Dr. Matt Malcolm, the project’s lead investigator and director of the NRRL. “The brain stimulation alone would not accomplish (restored arm movement).”

Coupling TMS with extensive CIT enables researchers to understand the impact of such stimulation on the “physiological conditions in the brain for learning [in stroke survivors],” Malcolm said.

“It’s a very interesting research tool. It’s very effective and pretty simple to do,” Thaut said, acknowledging that now the question becomes, “Can the research method be a therapy?”

Setting out over the next two years to find answers for improved stroke rehabilitation, researchers are just beginning to understand the complexities of the brain and how it works, especially after it’s been damaged.

“There is still so much to be learned about how we can help get people back to the things they were once able to do,” Crystal Massie, project coordinator and occupational therapy graduate student, said.

The NRRL is currently seeking research participants for the ongoing BRAINSTIM Project, stroke survivors aged 40 and older with a fair endurance may contact the laboratory for further information at (970) 491-3444.

Staff writer Shannon Hurley can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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