Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have developed and helped to commercialize a vagus nerve stimulator therapy, which significantly enhanced movement recovery in stroke patients undergoing rehab in a recent study. The device, called the Vivistim, is currently being tested and developed by a UT Dallas spinoff company called MicroTransponder. The implant is based on the principle that synchronizing vagus nerve stimulation with movement increases neural plasticity in the brain, resulting in enhanced recovery.
A staggering 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. In many cases, this can lead to life-changing impairments in motor function. “Stroke is too common and too debilitating for us to tolerate the status quo,” said Jane Wigginton, a researcher involved in the study. “Patients need a real solution, so they can get back to fully living their lives.”
At present, part of the therapy that stroke patients undergo is physical rehabilitation, which involves repeated movements in an affected limb. It is thought that these movements can help to stimulate neural plasticity, whereby the neural circuitry in the brain reorganizes itself to help restore movement and control.
This research team aimed to enhance such neural plasticity during rehab with a bit of electricity. To do so, they developed a device that can be implanted to stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck. The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system, and electrical stimulation of this nerve seems to help to increase neural plasticity.
They paired the vagal nerve stimulation with traditional physical rehab, and precisely timed the nerve stimulation to occur during movements of the affected limb. In a recent small study, the team found that the vagal implant doubled the effectiveness of the rehab, leading to twice as much movement recovery in treated patients.
“We set out to design an approach that could transform long-term care and restore quality of life to patients for whom that has thus far been impossible,” said Michael Kilgard, a researcher who pioneered targeted plasticity therapy. “These results show our method has immense potential. We’re excited about what this could mean for millions of stroke patients worldwide.”
Via: UT Dallas…