Rescuing brain function after stroke

Stroke affects one in five adults and is the leading cause of disability in western countries.

Stroke is estimated to cost the Australian community $5 billion each year in health care services and lost productivity. Unfortunately, two-thirds of stroke survivors live with an ongoing disability. This impedes their ability to carry out daily activities unassisted, which is a serious problem given that 30 percent of patients are aged under 65 and still working.

Almost all clinical trials of drugs to prevent functional loss after stroke have been unsuccessful. Rehabilitation through physiotherapy can improve function and reduce disability; however, recovery is often incomplete. Improved treatment and rehabilitation methods are urgently needed to achieve higher levels of recovery.

Bionics Institute researcher Associate Professor Chris Williams, in partnership with Dr Carli Roulston from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, has pioneered a small bionic implant designed to enhance functional recovery after stroke. This approach is based on their preliminary research that showed targeted electrical stimulation to stroke-affected regions in the movement area of the brain (motor cortex) can “rescue brain” and improve motor function.

The prototype device is at a very early stage of development and we gratefully acknowledge recent philanthropic funding from the Percy Baxter Charitable Trust that will allow us to progress this exciting research.

A bionic device that provides brain stimulation as a means of restoring function would transform treatment following stroke. Reducing the impact of stroke by enhancing functional recovery will have major societal benefits and, most importantly, it will improve quality of life for the many people who live with disability following stroke.

Our implant has some unique advantages: it is positioned under the scalp, requires minimal surgery, and uses a novel design of embedded electrodes to provide therapeutic electrical stimulation.  Importantly, our device will also monitor brain activity after stroke and during treatment. Monitoring is an essential feature of therapeutic devices that provides crucial information for diagnosis, allows tracking of treatments, and provides feedback for clinicians to maximise patient care.

We envisage this would work in conjunction with, and enhance, rehabilitation through physiotherapy.

To transform an idea into a device that will change people’s lives takes years of research and development. And, of course, funds. Our donors play a vital role in kick-starting early stage research and making these projects a reality.

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