Bridging the damaged brain to recover arm and hand movement

Published: Monday 19 May 2014

There is currently no cure for upper limb paralysis, which can be commonly caused by stroke.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers at Newcastle University have shown that, in monkeys, it is possible to restore hand and arm movement lost through brain damage.  Their technique works by recording from healthy parts of the brain and, using a computer, delivering that signal straight to healthy spinal cord.  This effectively 'by-passes' the damaged brain area. The discovery opens up the possibility of new treatments becoming available within the next few years,  which could help stroke survivors, and those with spinal cord injuries, to regain some movement in their arms and hands.

Commenting on the research findings, Dr Shamim Quadir, Research Communications Manager at the Stroke Association, said: “Partial paralysis of the arms, typically on just one side, is common after stroke, and can affect a person’s ability to wash, dress or feed themselves. Only about 15% of stroke patients will spontaneously recover the use of their hand and arm, with many people left facing the rest of their lives with a severe level of disability.

“Whilst it is still very early days, these exciting findings should help us better understand how paralysed stroke survivors can recover some movement in their arms and hands. By bridging across damaged parts of the brain, and unlocking its signals, we hope more people will be able to make their best possible recovery from the devastating effects of stroke.”

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