Stimulation therapy may help restore function in stroke survivors

The U Stroke Center enrolled its first patient earlier this month in a nationwide clinical trial to test stimulation therapy in stroke survivors.

The study, known as Everest, compares the effects of a brain stimulator implanted in a stroke survivor’s arm combined with standard therapy in two-thirds of the patients with the effects of more traditional physical and occupational therapy in the remaining third of the patients.

“We’re hoping this therapy leads to less disability and gives additional options for quality of life,” said Elaine Skalabrin, director of the Stroke Center.

The 18-site study will test approximately 170 adults within four months of a stroke. The U also enrolled 30 patients, 10 after screening, who are “healthy enough for an implantation” for six weeks, said Jolee Mougey, the study coordinator.

Mougey said she hopes the study will also bring attention to the fact that rehabilitation is beneficial to patients for a lifetime because normally, insurance only covers therapy for several months after a stroke.

“The physical therapy is directed toward lifestyle skills like dialing a phone or picking up a grandchild,” Mougey said, “and combined with the stimulator, it should help recovery.”

The brain stimulator implant is not designed to simply make muscles move, Skalabrin said. Instead, it stimulates cells so that when a person tries to move an arm or hand, the neurons make more synaptic connections.

“We are basically revving up the speed of a broken computer so it can be fixed,” Skalabrin said.

Recovery for stroke is most dramatic in the first three months, Skalabrin said, adding that she hopes this stimulator can “take advantage of recovery and maximize it during that time.”

There is currently no approved treatment or medicine to enhance hand and arm movement in stroke patients, and this therapy could fill some of those limitations, Skalabrin said.

The Stroke Center is looking for more people older than 21 who have had an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot to participate in the study. Candidates must also have “at least limited mobility in their arms and hands,” said Latheena Jones, head of recruitment for the Everest study.

Everest is funded by Northstar Neuroscience. For more information, call (888) 546-9779.