To increase hand function in pediatric patients who have suffered a stroke, pairing brain stimulation with occupational therapy may be key, according to new research conducted at the University of Minnesota, located in St. Paul, Minn, and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, also headquartered in Minn. Researchers explain that the new stimulation therapy at the center of their initial study uses a non-invasive magnetic field on the healthy side of the brain. 

The transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) inhibits stroke patients’ inclination to use their unaffected side, study leader Bernadette Gillick, MS, PT, Brain Plasticity Lab, University of Minnesota, says.

According to the StarTribune, 17 patients received treatment for 13 days, alternating between electronic stimulation and constraint-induced therapy. The children worked under the supervision of an occupational therapist to increase strength, flexibility, and hand function in their affected side. Reportedly, one group of children engaged in electronic stimulation combined with occupational therapy, while the second group received an electronic placebo treatment paired with occupational therapy.

Gillick emphasizes that current study results suggest “statistically significant” gains, with no adverse effects. However, researchers acknowledge that as of yet, it is not clear whether the therapy is increasing gains children achieve in occupational therapy. 

The study was reportedly funded by a $1 million challenge grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To complete the study, researchers must find 13 more children, aged 8 years to 16 years, before August 2012, when funding is exhausted.

Researchers add that a successful trial may increase the use of technology in the treatment of pediatric stroke patients and Gillick notes that she and her team are pursuing funding for a more extensive study.

Source: Star Tribune