The brain’s ability to reprogramme itself, known as neural plasticity, is being applied to help stroke patients recover lost movement in limbs using the latest technological advances. Murad Ahmed showcases four of the most promising developments which offer the prospect of a brighter future for those in stroke rehabilitation
1. NEURAL IMAGING
Recent advances, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which use magnetic fields to stimulate brain cells to assist brain-mapping, can help with better diagnosis of stroke sufferers. The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, an immersive computer games system bought by Facebook, could help clinicians detect brain patterns following research unveiled at this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival in Austin, Texas. A team of bio-engineering and neurology graduate students have already devised six games to aid stroke rehabilitation.
2. BRAINWAVE-READING HEADSET
Israeli company Neurokeeper has developed a portable stroke-detecting device that is worn on the patient’s head to read brain waves and identify discrepancies picked up by its electrodes. It can be deployed as an early-warning system in at-risk patients, giving doctors real-time information to spot and treat patients before a stroke takes hold.
The startup company believes the device can be used at home, allowing sufferers to notice the signs in an approaching stroke and seek emergency medical assistance.
3. ELECTRICAL STIMULATION
The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has created a machine that can “read” a person’s thoughts to “shock” and stimulate paralysed limbs into action. Researchers demonstrated that a special skullcap with electrodes could translate brainwaves into electrical impulses that help activate the nerves in a stroke victim’s limbs. Its aim is to help the brain recover the neural connections that drive movement. Similar products are available, including the SaeboFlex Functional Arm Training System, the Myomo and InMotion robotic systems.
4. ROBOTIC ARM
It looks like a Star Trek prop, but a new arm shell fitted with metallic sensors is stimulating improved function for everyday movements. The Bioness H200 wireless hand system effectively provides a bionic arm. A wireless system delivers low-level impulses that activate the nerves which control the muscles in the hand and forearm to restore functions, such as grasping, pinching and holding. Its lightweight shell gives support so the arm can carry out repetitive actions that make it easier to recover functions.