Technology developed by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis helps stroke victims to regain their mobility. The technique “teaches” the brain motor skills, using electrical signals to train the stroke victim’s brain to use uninjured parts of the brain for movement. This system can allow people to regain mobility after a stroke.
Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Paralysis is one of the most common disabilities resulting from stroke. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke each year. Worldwide, 15 million people suffer stroke worldwide each year (Source: World Health Organization). Of these, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled.
Brain-Computer Research Led to New Stroke Recovery System
Almost ten years ago, two members of the Washington University research team—Eric Leuthardt, MD and David Bundy, PhD—recognized that electrical signals indicating movement planning are initiated on the same side of the brain as the limb that will move. Within milliseconds of these first signals, motor control areas on the opposite side of the brain take over, and actual movement occurs. Stroke patients with paralyzed limbs have suffered damage to the motor control area of the brain. In most cases, the movement planning area is uninjured.
This represents the difference between being unable to put on their pants by themselves and being able to do so.
The research team has taken advantage of this discovery to create a brain-computer interface device called the Ipsihand. The device consists of a motorized glove that can move the fingers of the hand, and a cap with electrodes to detect electrical signals in the brain. The computer amplifies the signals detected from the uninjured movement planning area of the brain and initiates movement in a brace fitting over the patient’s paralyzed hand. The patient learns to operate the brace, moving the fingers in a pincer-like grip.
Bold Change in Quality of Life For Stroke Victims
Thy Huskey, MD, associate professor of neurology and member of the team, points out, “Of course, there’s a lot more to using your arms and hands than this, but being able to grasp and use your opposable thumb is very valuable. For some people, this represents the difference between being unable to put on their pants by themselves and being able to do so.” The Ipsihand is just the beginning. Members of the research team have founded the company Neurolutions, Inc. to further develop the technology.
Often bold ideas take time to reap rewards. After ten years of study and development, researchers at Washington University have produced a mind-controlled device that helps stroke patients retrain their brains to move paralyzed hands. Further research and refinement could have a bold impact on the quality of life for the stroke-impaired.