Researchers from the University of Oxford have unveiled a treatment which could help stroke patients suffering from brain damage to recover more quickly by applying a small current to a specific part of their brain.
The technique, termed “trans-cranial direct current stimulation”, or TDCS, sees the patient being attached to a nine-volt battery via electrodes placed on the scalp, and a gentle electrical current is then passed through the brain.
A specific area of the brain that affects motor function is targeted, but it is possible that similar technology could be used to enhance other areas. The current is thought to stimulate the release of brain chemicals that strengthen vital connection between brain cells.
It is thought that this technique can assist in improving movement and memory, and has sped up the processes of learning tasks such as remembering sequences of button-presses or learning to play a piece of music on the piano.
Researcher Heidi Johansen-Berg believes that the treatment has the potential to transition into ‘thinking caps’ within 5 years that can be used in the patients home to wake up white matter damaged by a stroke. She also hopes that the headsets could also be used in those with healthy brains to improve function and memory.
Ten people who had suffered a stroke at least six months earlier and 18 who had not were asked to practise a computer game that involved squeezing a stick to control the movement of a bar on the screen. Scans showed that the healthy people's brains became less active with familiarity, however the stroke patients' brains became more active, suggesting the damaged cells were working harder. The individuals then repeated a similar exercise whilst undergoing TDCS, and it was found that sequences were learned at a faster rate.
The results have significant implications for more than a quarter of a million Britons who currently suffer from problems ranging from muscle weakness and paralysis to loss of coordination caused by stroke. Current treatment is mainly limited to physiotherapy, so even small improvements to these methods could make a big difference to quality of life.
Original Source Times of India
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