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Noninvasive Stimulation May Improve Hand Use for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

scientistsThe findings of a new research study may bring hope to those who are partially paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord injury. Researchers used a form of noninvasive stimulation on people with chronic cervical spinal cord injury, a new method that conducts impulses from the brain’s motor cortex to the spinal cord. The researchers tested the new method on 19 spinal cord injury patients and 14 uninjured people, customizing each treatment for each individual and pairing “transcranial magnetic stimulation delivered to a specific part of the motor cortex with electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves found in the wrist.”

To produce volleys of neural activity, 100 paired pulses were delivered every 10 seconds for a period of around 20 minutes. By using this form of noninvasive stimulation, researchers were able to temporarily improve the ability of individuals with spinal cord injuries to use their hands. Following the treatment, participants were able to exert more force with their hand muscles, and the effects translated into greater manual dexterity when each was asked to manipulate and grasp small pegs with their index fingers and thumb.

One of the co-authors of the study states that this noninvasive stimulation protocol has the potential to be used as part of a rehabilitation technique in a clinic setting. She explains that when the pulses from the motor cortex were precisely timed to arrive at the spinal cord, an increase in spinal cord transmission and voluntary motor output was observed for up to 80 minutes. Researchers state that more prolonged use of the technique, or even combining it with other rehabilitation strategies, may improve its therapeutic benefits.

The protocol might also be used in the treatment of other kinds of motor disorders involving damage to the corticospinal tract. A co-author of the study asserts that human electrophysiology can be a powerful tool for developing therapies and may help improve present rehabilitation strategies.

[Source: Current Biology]