New Trial at UC Tests Brain Stimulation as an Aid to Stroke Rehabilitation

A new trial at the University of Cincinnati (UC) will test the possible benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation on hand and arm function as part of stroke rehabilitation.

Adults who have experienced an ischemic stroke within the last 12 months and experience weakness on one side of his or her body are eligible for the trial. Patients will receive hand and arm therapy with an occupational therapist in addition to the real or placebo treatments for transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Kari Dunning, PhD, an associate professor in the UC College of Allied Health’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, is the local principal investigator for the trial, which will take place on UC’s campus at the Neural Excitability, Therapeutics and Recovery (NET Recovery) lab. Dunning is director of the NET Recovery Lab and a licensed physical therapist.

“The study is being done because there is some evidence that people with stroke can improve arm movement following brain stimulation by using a device called a transcranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS,” says Dunning. “Using TMS to reduce brain activity on a person’s non-injured side may give the injured side of body a better chance at recovery.”

TMS sends low-frequency, painless magnetic pulses through a device placed on the head for 15 minutes during a therapy visit. In addition to the TMS, participants will work with an occupational therapist to focus on improving movement, flexibility, strength and use of the weakened arm and hand.

According to the American Stroke Association, each year stroke affects nearly 800,000 individuals, and many survivors experience persistent difficulty with daily tasks. Because a stroke can affect many functions—gross and fine motor skills, speech and language, vision, cognition and emotions, as well as potentially causing paralysis and weakness—rehabilitation can range from time in an inpatient facility or a long-term acute care hospital to those who may be advised by their physician to have in-home health care or outpatient therapy.

“It is important that we learn how to better improve recovery from a stroke, and this technique has shown some promise worthy of further exploration,” says co-investigator Brett Kissela, MD. Kissela is the Albert Barnes Voorheis Professor and Chair of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine in the College of Medicine and a member of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

UC is one of six sites across the U.S. conducting the trial, funded by Nexstim. Dunning and Kissela receive compensation for their work on the study. They cite no conflicts of interest.

To qualify, participants must be 18 or older, have had their stroke three to 12 months prior to enrollment in the study and have hand and arm weakness on one side of their body. Exclusion criteria include implanted devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators, pregnancy, depression and active alcohol abuse.

The therapy and treatments are free of charge. Participants will be compensated over the follow-up period. The study lasts up to 8 months and may involve up to 30 visits.

For information about participating in the trial, contact netlab@uc.edu or call 513-558-7487.

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