Magnets aid brain recovery
nic_white_-_brain_wiring.jpg
Researchers have developed a technique
using one of the few brain stimulators in
Australia that promote the rewiring of
brain cells.
Image: MaleWitch/iStockphoto

Scientists may be able to significantly enhance recovery from strokes and degenerative diseases by stimulating the brain with a magnetic field.

The technique can target specific parts of the brain depending on which part has been damaged with research on restoring motor function. 

Researchers at the Australian Neuromuscular Research Institute (ANRI) have developed a technique using one of the few brain stimulators in Australia that promote the rewiring of brain cells as they try to restore motor function.

Professor Gary Thickbroom, head of ANRI’s Brain Research Group, says his team is trying to promote brain plasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself – to aid recovery after strokes and limit damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

“The brain itself is very plastic and tries to repair itself so when a stroke damages part of the brain, undamaged parts are going to try to take over and relearn the function that was lost,” Professor Thickbroom says.

“So when a brain is trying to relearn how to control a limb, it reorganises itself to use parts of the brain that would not normally be involved in that function. 

“We’re trying to help that along by increasing brain excitability and synaptic or neuronal plasticity.”

The coil-like device, which is held near the patient’s head, uses a carefully modulated magnetic field outside the brain to induce a current flow inside the brain that is sufficient enough to activate the brain and increase the amount of rewiring activity.

“We use patterns of waves to stimulate the brain and this carefully follows what the brain itself is trying to do to reinforce that,” Professor Thickbroom says.

Their technique can target specific parts of the brain depending on which part has been damaged, with their research focusing on motor function restoration. 

Professor Thickbroom says they are currently able to modulate brain excitability up and down, and a recent pilot study on Parkinson’s disease resulted in short term improvement in simple motor function. 

The next phase is to refine the technique to increase the length of improvements after treatment.

They hope to eventually integrate it into existing therapeutic regimes for stroke and Parkinson's patients.

“We think the best approach is to use standard therapies that aim to teach the brain to do things at the same time as doing the brain stimulation to promote and accelerate that recovery,” Professor Thickbroom says.


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