Stroke patients may someday use mind-controlled device to regain use of paralyzed limbs | St. Louis Public Radio

Stroke patients may someday use mind-controlled device to regain use of paralyzed limbs

May 31, 2017

A mind-controlled robotic glove under development by Washington University scientists could give hope to those whose hands have become paralyzed due to a stroke. 

In the journal Stroke, researchers reported some success with using the device, called the Ipsihand, to help stroke patients regain the ability to grasp objects. A  group of 10 patients wore the robotic exoskeleton over the hand, wirelessly connected to a cap fastened to the head that reads brain signals that tell the hand to open and close.

The study also showed that if the left side of the brain was damaged and impaired the ability to control the right hand, the right half could be used to restore function in the right hand.

"We can tap into the signaling of an intact brain, the right side still unaffected by the stroke," said Thy Huskey, a neurology professor at Wash U. "Those signals could signal through a computer, a device that can assist the right hand to move." 

Huskey added that the Ipsihand helps patients perform a specific type of grasp, the "three-jaw chuck," which uses the index and middle finger to oppose the thumb, and is necessary to pick up large, heavy objects. 

"That's probably the most useful grasp we use every day," she said. 

Washington University neurology professor Thy Huskey assists patient Micah Tate at The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis.
Credit Robert Boston

Scientists thought for a long time that it could be detrimental if areas of one hemisphere of the brain took over work of the other, said David Bundy, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center and the lead author of the paper. But patients in the study showed significant improvement in opening and closing their hands after practicing with the device after 12 weeks. 

"In practicing and having that feedback of thinking and actually seeing their hand open and close has been shown to aid in that recovery, so when they are not using the device, they still have an improvement in opening and closing that hand," said Lauren Souders, an occupational therapist working with Neurolutions, the company involved with developing Ipsihand. 

The next step is to recruit more participants to prove that the device can work with a large number of stroke patients.  

"I think we're going to learn more and more that every stroke patient is going to be a little different," Bundy said. "Some of the research that I'm trying to do at KUMC will help us break stroke patients down into individual patients and help us figure out what type of patient a device like this is going to work best on. Maybe there's going to be a group of patients that require having us look at a different brain signal or a different area of the brain."

In the long term, such technologies could help other types of patients who've become paralyzed due to neurological conditions. Huskey, for example, has multiple sclerosis. 

"Currently, I use a motorized wheelchair so one hand has to be on the joystick," she said. "If I could use the brain interface and think about something like moving my finger that my brain recognizes as the wheelchair going forth, then I could just do that and it'll become second nature for me to power a chair." 

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