UW researchers develop device to improve life after stroke - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW researchers develop device to improve life after stroke

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MADISON (WKOW) -- UW-Madison researchers have developed a new tool that could provide a better life after a stroke.

Dr. Vivek Prabhakaran, who worked with a team of colleagues in radiology and biomedical engineering to develop the device, says it aims to shorten rehabilitation time and provide a higher level of recovery for patients suffering the crippling effects of a stroke. 

Doctors say stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability like paralysis in the U.S., affecting 4.7 million Americans. Every year, nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke.

The device uses a person's brain activities to stimulate nerves and help patients regain mobility and do things they never thought they could do after a stroke.

Prabhakaran, director of neuroimaging in radiology at UW-Madison, presented findings of a unique study using the device at the Radiological Society of North America's annual conference. He says so far, it's had amazing results among test patients.

"We see brain changes in using this device over time as well as changes in their behavior in terms of their functionality of their arm, their hand strength, as well as activities of daily living," says Prabhakaran. "Some of [the patients] said their mood was improved, their ability to communicate improved. We had one sign language patient who felt that their ability to sign was better."

Prabhakaran says previously, it was believed people in the later stages after a stroke would plateau and never regain former abilities, but he believes the study now shows it's possible to recover months to years after a stroke.

So far, nine stroke patients have participated in the study in the past year and a half. They spend two to three hour sessions with the device on campus for about 4-6 weeks. Their brains are scanned before, during and after the study to gauge progress along with tracking behavioral changes.

Neuroscience grad student Léo Walton describes the process as reconnecting the dots in a brain that's lost that ability to communicate with the rest of the body. The device uses brain-computer interfacing, by measuring the brain's electrical activity, and retraining it to move limbs again.

"Some of these people have spasticity, so their hand is always clenched, so then we work on trying to release the hand, release the muscles, " says Walton, as he demonstrates the machine on himself. "They're going to try and in the beginning, while they're not able to move, eventually we hope we can reconnect the dots."

Researchers plan to continue the study to involve at least 40 people. Prabhakaran hopes the device may one day be used in a clinic setting, or even through a laptop at a patient's home.
 
People who have had a stroke and are interested in participating in the study can contact the radiology study coordinator Jenny Swartz at jswartz@uwhealth.org.
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