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“South African botanist Lyall Watson once said “if the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.” Innumerable studies have been conducted to explain its nature, yet the human brain remains one of humanity’s greatest enigmas. Similar to the human body itself, the brain requires resources, such as water and nutrients, in order to function properly; it too faces severe consequences once it is derived from these resources.
A stroke occurs when plaque clogs a blood vessel, preventing it from dispatching resources to specific lobes of the brain, or when a blood vessel bursts releasing blood into the surrounding meninges. The effects of strokes can range from language impairment – called Aphasia – to paralysis, given the hemispheric location where the stroke occurs. Given the fact strokes result in the deaths of approximately 140,000 annually, and as it is the leading cause of long term disability, several studies have been conducted in order to combat this medical tragedy.
Given the rise of recent advancements in technology, noninvasive brain stimulation has become a promising, yet highly experimental, treatment for stroke survivors. Developing methods of research have given rise to a number of noninvasive brain stimulation methods. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is among the most studied methods as it used an insulated coil, placed on the patient’s scalp, to send electromagnetic pulses through the left side of the brain’s frontal cortex, similar to how a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI) does. Once “activated”, the cells release neurotransmitters.
Given that is one of the cheapest forms of noninvasive stimulation, as its equipment can be transported efficiently, Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) shows much promise. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation uses cathods in order to send direct electric currents to the brain of participants. There are two forms of tDCS; Anodal Stimulation works to catalyze neuronal activity, while Cathodal Stimulation minimizes this activity.
A study by Agnes Flöel, Nina Rösser, Olesya Michka, Stefan Knecht, and Caterina Breitenstein sought to test the capabilities of Anodal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to assist healthy individuals learn a new language, and to assist in the acquisition of language in stroke survivors.. In order to do this, nineteen right handed individuals underwent trials of anodal, cathodal, and sham – shirt electric pulses used as a control – treatments to the brain. The results showed anodal stimulation to assist in quicker, more effective learning compared to other forms of stimulation.
Although not a direct-to-brain approach, researchers at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center conducted a study which intriguingly combined the usage of both noninvasive brain computer interfaces and functional electrical stimulation. Noninvasive brain computer interface (BCI) machinery use brain activity to control devices outside of one’s body. Functional electrical stimulation (FES) electrically shocks the muscle, which activates nerves, restoring minimal movement in the muscle. FES may potentially assist the mind in requiring the lost signals of the given muscle’s movement. In the case study included a 43 year old stroke survivor, who had extreme difficulty with joint movement in her hands. Through the combined efforts of BCI and FES in the experiment, which lasted nine weeks, the participant had shown great progress in regaining her ability to move her index finger.
Although a highly experimental form of therapy, noninvasive brain stimulation, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, Noninvasive brain computer interface, as well as Functional electrical stimulation, may assist stroke survivors on their road to regaining abilities which they had once lost. With the popularity of the film streaming service Netflix’s My Beautiful Broken Brain – a documentary which follows Lotje Sodderland as she struggles with the effects and eventual recovery from a stroke – awareness has certainly risen over the topic of strokes. Given that at least one person dies from a stroke every four minutes in the United States, it is our responsibility to find ways to help those who have suffered from a stroke as well as prevent those already at risk from having a stroke. To quote Sodderland, “It’s frightening losing yourself in your own body.”
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