Newcastle U. testing wearable to restore hand, arm function in stroke survivors


Newcastle University is testing a wearable device in partially paralyzed stroke patients to see if it can restore hand and arm function.

The device, about the size of a mobile phone, strengthens connections between the brain and spinal cord by delivering electrical shocks to the arm and making audible clicks, according to a statement. The treatment is delivered via a pad on the arm and an earpiece. The clicks and electrical stimulation are delivered continuously.

"We think that if they wear this for 4 hours a day we will be able to see a permanent improvement in their extensor muscle connections which will help them gain control on their hand,” said Stuart Baker, a professor of movement neuroscience at Newcastle University, in the statement.

In a human study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers found that using the miniaturized device strengthened the signal pathway, known as the reticulospinal tract, in 15 out of 25 participants. Now, the university is collaborating with the Institute of Neurosciences in Kolkata, India on a 150-participant clinical trial. They expect data by the end of the year.

Stroke patients often have partial paralysis of the arms, typically on just one side. Only 15% of them spontaneously regain the use of their hand and arm. And while efforts have been made to fortify brain connections using similar methods, these have all required unwieldy equipment that used mains electricity, according to the statement.