Deep Brain Stimulation Offers Hope for Stroke Patients' Quality of Life Improvement

7 September 2023
Every year, millions of people are affected by strokes, a debilitating neurological condition that often significantly impacts their quality of life. When someone experiences a stroke, every minute counts, particularly in the case of a cerebral infarction, as brain cells rapidly die off.

Overcoming the Challenges of Stroke Recovery

This brain damage can still be limited in practice through the prompt use of an IAT (Intra-Arterial Treatment) procedure. Although post-stroke treatments have improved over time, recovery often remains limited. A large group of patients continues to experience long-term limitations and disabilities years after their stroke. It is encouraging news that deep brain stimulation, combined with physiotherapy, now offers new possibilities for effectively treating individuals long after a stroke has occurred. A recent Phase 1 clinical trial, led by Dr. Andre G. Machado from the Lerner College of Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, has yielded promising results for the application of DBS in stroke patients. This innovative technique, previously successful in tests on rodents, has now been applied to humans for the first time. The results suggest that DBS is safe and particularly effective in improving upper limb mobility in stroke patients.

Exploring DBS and its Challenges

DBS is a surgical procedure where a device sends electrical impulses to specific brain regions to restore normal brain activity. Until now, DBS has been explored for various neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and epilepsy. Recently, deep brain stimulation has also shown promise in treating severe anxiety disorders and reducing episodes of severe overeating. The safety and effectiveness of DBS in stroke patients have been under long-term investigation. The recent study involving 12 patients produced promising results. During the trial, DBS devices were implanted in the patients' brains, and they received DBS treatment along with intensive physiotherapy for 4 to 8 months, resulting in significant improvements in upper limb mobility. While the trial did not report severe side effects, it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of DBS. Dr. Jean-Philippe Langevin, a neurosurgeon, remains optimistic and views these findings as a precursor to a Phase 2 clinical trial. However, there are obstacles to overcome, including the costs and the highly invasive nature of this procedure.

Considering Alternatives and Ongoing Research

DBS is only possible after a complex brain surgery, which may limit the availability of this treatment. There are alternatives, such as non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation, which may be more suitable for a broader range of stroke patients. However, there has been insufficient research into such non-invasive techniques among stroke patients. Continuous research efforts are therefore crucial to improving treatment options.