New Therapy for Stroke Patients

June 4, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Each year, about 750,000 Americans will suffer a stroke. Today, nearly six million stroke survivors are alive, and many continue to struggle with lasting side effects, like paralysis. Now, a new treatment could retrain the brain to get patients moving again. Ten years ago, Judy Walsh had a stroke in her fifties.

"I just couldn't believe it. Here I am, 54. I never thought I would have this problem," Walsh says.

She was left partially paralyzed.

"My left side of my leg, my left arm, my speech, my swallowing," Walsh says.

Robert Levy, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, says 50 percent of stroke survivors will have lasting paralysis.

"It takes away their independence and it takes away their ability to control their lives," Dr. Levy says.

Now he's studying brain stimulation that will re-grow neural pathways to reverse that paralysis.

"Until now, there has been no really effective way to re-grow pathways within the brain," Dr. Levy says.

Surgeons place electrodes internally over the injured brain area. They're powered by a battery implanted in the chest. The brain is stimulated only during intense physical rehab that involves the paralyzed arm.

"This is one of the single biggest advances in stroke therapy that I've witnessed in my entire career," Dr. Levy says.

Walsh had the treatment seven years after her stroke. Whether it's opening a jar, making a sandwich, or spending time with her grandchildren, she is thankful to have her movement back.

In the study, patients underwent the stimulation during intense physical rehab. At the end of the study, the electrodes and the battery were removed, but Dr. Levy says if this gets FDA approval, its possible the implant would be left in permanently.