Combination of neurorobots and brain stimulation helps with severe paralysis
More than a hundred thousand people in Germany cannot move their hands normally due to a stroke despite neurological rehabilitation measures. The restrictions in everyday life are massive for those affected. Research is intensively looking for new therapies to enable stroke patients to have a better quality of life. Scientists at the University of Tübingen have developed a new technology that uses brain stimulation and neurorobots to activate unused nerve pathways. Initial applications have shown promising results.
The scientific team led by the Tübingen neurosurgeon Professor Alireza Gharabaghi has combined two particularly promising therapeutic approaches that can be carried out completely without surgery. On the one hand, neurorobots are used for rehabilitation and, on the other hand, transcranial magnetic stimulation is used. The researchers were able to demonstrate that the combination of these two methods also activates previously unused nerve pathways. The results were published in the science magazine "Journal of Neuroscience". Stroke patients with severe paralysis in particular could benefit from this method.
Previous therapeutic approaches are not effective enough
The two methods have already been used separately. While each of the two approaches has improved the effectiveness of nerve pathways at hand, the scientists say that restoring motor function also requires recruiting additional neurons. This is only possible if previously unused nerve pathways are activated.
How is the new therapy going?
Neurorobots for rehabilitation, so-called brain-machine interfaces, are controlled by the patient's brain signals and can thus open and close a paralyzed hand when the participant imagines the corresponding movement. Meanwhile, transcranial magnetic stimulation is applied. The stimulation activates exactly the brain regions that are responsible for these movements. The combination of the two methods could also activate unused nerve tracts. However, this only worked if the two methods were used simultaneously and the study participants also imagined the corresponding hand movement, the researchers report.
New hope for stroke patients with paralysis
The scientists come to the conclusion that the effects of the new therapeutic approach are important for the restoration of motor function after a stroke. The research results may be of particular importance in the future for patients whose hand function has failed completely. The first test applications in severely affected patients confirm the results. The new therapeutic approach is now to be examined in a larger study by the University Hospital Tübingen, which is supported by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation. (vb)