The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 17, 2007

Grant aids study of magnets, movement

Stroke is the No. 1 cause of adult disability, and a neurologist from West Virginia University has received a grant for research she hopes will reveal new ways to improve the motor skills of stroke victims.

“We want to enhance physical therapy by stimulating the brain area that controls hand movements in stroke patients,” Dr. Cathrin Buetefisch of the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology said. “Animal data show there has been success in improving motor function with the combination of the magnetic and electrical stimulation of the cortex of the brain. If this works in humans, it would provide a safe, non-invasive tool.”

The National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke has awarded Buetefisch nearly $1 million to apply neurobiological principles to stroke patients’ rehabilitation. She will use magnetic stimulation in the portion of the brain responsible for movement.

“Part of the grant helps us to find the best parameter for transcranial magnetic stimulation. We’re trying to activate the neurons that survived the stroke in the area where motor function is affected,” Buetefisch said.

However, the study will involve a specific population of stroke patients, she added.

“Out of every 50 patients referred to us, we’ll be lucky if one fits all the criteria to participate in the stimulation study,” she said.

“We are looking for a healthy person who has had only one stroke which has affected a particular part of the brain. Sometimes, when we image the brain, we find there have been other small strokes of which the patient has been unaware. These could have been caused by medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”

She says the stimulation is painless. Patients wear a cap-style monitoring device while a flat panel is gently placed against the head. The panel sends out a magnetic field that induces current in the underlying brain and evokes responses in muscles that are detected on a monitor.

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