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New Treatment Strategy Could Help Stroke Patients Recover from Paralysis

Jun 13, 2014 04:51 AM EDT
paralyzed rat
The red trajectories show a rats movements after stroke. Suffering from motor deficits, the rat is unable to control its forelimb function an misses the sugar pellet. After rehabilitation the grasps are smooth an distinct (green trajectories).
(Photo : Tabea Kraus/ University of Zurich)

Recovering completely from paralysis after a major stroke is difficult. Even with drugs and rehabilitation, people rarely have complete control over motor function. A new study shows that a change in the treatment schedule can increase chances of post-stroke recovery in paralyzed patients.

According to the scientists, administering nerve growth promoter drug before training program improves treatment results.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich's Neuroscience Center, was based on rats. The team is hopeful that the current research could help in the development of better treatment strategies for brain or spine injury patients.

"This new rehabilitative approach at least triggered an astonishing recovery of the motor skills in rats, which may become important for the treatment of stroke patients in the future," said first author Anna-Sophia Wahl.

Around 80 percent of stroke survivors suffer from paralysis on one side of the body, which is called Hemiparesis.

Currently, people who have suffered a major stroke have to deal with severe loss of motor-function, vision problems and a poor quality of life.

In rats, Nogo proteins inhibit nerve fiber growth. Blocking these proteins using antibodies allows nerves to grow and form connections.

For the study, researchers put rats affected by stroke under different treatment schedules. Some were put on training along with drug treatment while others received drugs before being given physical training. Motor function of rats was assessed via grip strength tests.

Researchers found that the set of rats that was given drugs prior to training regained 85 percent of the motor function, while the other group got back just 15 percent of their original function.

The drug treatment lets the nerve fibers to grow and the subsequent training helps the brain to prune the non-essential nerve fibers, researchers said.

"Our study reveals how important a meticulous therapeutic design is for the most successful rehabilitation possible," said Martin Schwab. "The brain has enormous potential for the reorganization and reestablishment of its functions. With the right therapies at the right time, this can be increased in a targeted fashion."

The study is published in the journal Science. 

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