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New Technology May Improve The Lives of People Suffering Weakness and Paralysis After Stroke

Researchers at UT Dallas have uncovered evidence to suggest that technology designed to stimulate the vagus nerve could be the breakthrough needed to offer an improvement in the quality of life for people who’ve experienced weakness or paralysis following a stroke.

While Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for illnesses such as depression and epilepsy, this is the first time that has been used with people recovering from stroke. By sending a mild electric pulse through the vagus nerve in the neck, it enables the nerve to relay information about what’s going on in the body to the brain. It also encourages the brain to reorganise this information in a process that scientists call ‘neural plasticity’. Through their study, the researchers at UT Dallas have been able to show that this experimental treatment is safe, plus they were also able to demonstrate that it has significant potential for reducing weakness and other impairments among stroke patients.

The patients who received VNS reported improved motion and strength in the arm affected by the stroke

Twenty patients who had experienced arm weakness following their stroke took part in the study. They were randomly assigned to two groups for six weeks of therapy; one group receiving just rehabilitation therapy while the other received the rehabilitation therapy combined with the experimental VNS therapy. Their results were compared against the Fugl-Meyer assessment scale, which measures recovery in stroke patients. While the first group improved by an average of 3 points, the second group saw an average improvement of 9 points. Although the results varied for each individual, the patients who received VNS reported improved greater motion and strength in the arm affected by the stroke. According to, Dr. Michael Kilgard, one of the study’s co-authors, while there is further work to be done, it’s an exciting result as it demonstrates that VNS has an effect on recovery.

While the study was carried out at UT Dallas, the trial actually took place in Glasgow in Scotland. However, a new trial is now underway at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center to provide this experimental therapy, and they are now seeking local stroke patients to get involved.

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