Feb 05, 2018

Could We Train Our Brains To Recover After a Stroke?

Strokes can be devastating for people who experience them and their families. Through a clot of blockage in the brain, the affected area stops receiving oxygen and nutrients that it needs to keep the brain cells alive and working.

A new research has found that temporary sensory deprivation may help the brain heal itself after a stroke.

It’s believed that the brain is able to “rewire” itself.

The research from Washington University School of Medicine did a peculiar experiment on mice to come to this conclusion.

On a group of lab mice, scientists clipped the end of their whiskers – which is significant because for rodents, their whiskers are considered a sensory organ with lots of nerves.

For animals, their whiskers help them to navigate their surroundings and to detect moving objects around them.

With their whiskers trimmed, the mice are unable to receive sensory signals, leaving the affected part of the brain mouldable.

The research team found that this group of mice with the trimmed whiskers were able to better recover the use of their front paw after a stroke.

By week 4 after the stroke, the mice had started to use the right forepaw again, and by week 8, they were using them as well as the left forepaw.

Though “cutting off whiskers” is not something that can be done to a person, there has been some relevant findings from this mice experiment.

The brain scans of the mice showed some real results. The areas of the brain that normally showed activity for their front paws, ended up moving to the part of the brain that would normally be associated with the whiskers.

Senior study author Jin-Moo Lee, a professor of neurology, says “Our findings suggest that we may be able to stimulate [stroke] recovery by temporarily vacating some brain real estate and making that region of the brain more plastic.”

“One way to do that might be by immobilizing a healthy limb,” he adds.

Though amputation would be extreme, the idea is that the brain activity could be moved from one part of the brain to another is a new discovery.

Prof. Lee says that their findings show that it may be possible to improve outcomes following stroke by “enhancing plasticity in targeted regions of the brain.”

Traditional rehabilitation approaches for people who have had a stroke is to help them compensate for their disability – whether it is issues with speech, mobility or the use of their arms/hands.

The research firmly believes that their findings offer a new alternative approach for stroke rehabilitation.

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