New stroke research aims to improve recovery

04 September 2014

Research into why some people recover better from stroke than others, is underway at the University of Auckland.

A team of researchers within the Centre for Brain Research have been successful in attracting funding in the Health Research Council 2014 round, with two of the projects focusing on stroke research.

Together the studies have the potential to improve the recovery of motor function and independence for the approximately 6,000 New Zealanders who experience stroke each year.

Sport and Exercise Science Professor Winston Byblow and his team have received $1.2 million to investigate how stroke affects “inhibitory tone” in the brain, which can lead to difficulties in producing movement.

The study seeks to extend the group’s world-leading discovery as to why some individuals make a good recovery after stroke, while others do not.

“This funding will help us identify new factors in the initial days and weeks following a stroke that may dictate a good versus poor recovery weeks and months later,” says Professor Byblow.

The team, including Professor Alan Barber and Associate Professor Cathy Stinear from the Department of Medicine, will use magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify a “chemical signature” for each patient early after stroke.

That signature will identify whether the stroke has created a barrier to plasticity, and be used to identify patients who need an additional boost to reach their full potential for recovery.

“This will allow us to individualise non-invasive brain stimulation and should boost the brain’s natural plastic response which is necessary for recovery,” says Professor Byblow.

The direct current stimulation involves passing very weak current through the brain using a device powered by a 9V battery.

“The technique is known to be safe if administered in controlled environments. The difficulty with current methods of direct current stimulation for stroke recovery has been the variability in response from one patient to the next,” he says.

In a study published last year in the international journal Cerebral Cortex, Professor Byblow’s group was the first to identify factors which predict the variation.

“We were pretty excited to ‘crack the code’ and discover why some patients respond favourably while others do not. That provided us with the missing piece of the puzzle we needed for this new study.”

The group has also been awarded a $150,000 grant from HRC to conduct a feasibility study looking at accelerating recovery after stroke, led by Associate Professor Stinear. The feasibility study will investigate whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can increase the rate and extent of motor recovery after stroke.

Together the studies have the potential to improve the recovery of motor function and independence for the approximately 6,000 New Zealanders who experience stroke each year.

 

For more information and interview time, please contact:


Suzi Phillips, Media Relations Advisor, Sustainability and Environment,

Communications, the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, University of Auckland.

Email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz or Tel +64 9 923 7383 or Mob 021416396

 

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