Applying an electrical current to the brain of a stroke patient might boost his recovery, says a new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The study focuses on the technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) with respect to rehabilitation training. TDCS entails the application of a low electrical current through the brain of a patient; the current will be equivalent to only a small fraction of what is required for a light-bulb. It was applied on stroke patients with a view to assisting them in getting their muscles moving and functioning again.
The researchers made 12 of 24 patients go through TDCS for 9 days (for 20 minutes per day) while the other half was the control group who received placebo treatment. Both groups also had physiotherapy.
The results show stark differences between the two categories 3 months later. Those having gone through the current stimulation displayed significantly improved movements than those who only had physiotherapy; the hand and arm training of the former was found to have been boosted by the electrical stimulation as the patients were better able to lift, reach for, and grasp objects.
Coauthor Dr Charlotte Stagg from Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences says in a statement that the patients of the first group were able to do actions like peeling a banana for the first time after the stroke.
Otherwise, re-leaning these simple activities following a stroke can be challenging. Longer training will indeed lead to better recovery, but this will be time-consuming, and more resources have to be pooled for the purpose. Therefore, being able to boost the recovery process through TDCS is deemed an invaluable finding.
How does the applied current help the patients? The results of the study show greater activity in the brain areas related to motor skills in patients having had TDCS: the researchers suggest that it might be smoothing the process of brain cell regeneration, or it might be triggering the nerve cells to build pathways other than those having been damaged by the stroke.
The researchers do add that the experiments need to be reproduced on a larger sample group. It has to be proved that the procedure comes with long-term benefits before it can be confirmed as being effective.