Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic are testing whether electrical stimulation of the brain helps improve the effectiveness of physical rehabilitation after a stroke. Strokes leave hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. debilitated each year.

With deep brain stimulation, or DBS, electrodes are surgically implanted into the brain, and a neurostimulator, typically implanted in the chest, stimulates the brain with mild electrical current.

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions, DBS is used primarily to treat or reduce tremors, stiffness and slowness. The technique also has been studied for use in a variety of ailments, including depression and chronic pain.

Andre Machado, director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic, and his team are experimenting with the treatment in animals, to find the appropriate electric current and stimulation frequency that will help restore function after a stroke. They are applying to the FDA for permission to begin testing the technique in humans although they don’t have an estimated start date for the work.

The hope with human stroke patients is that DBS would be able to help healthy brain regions compensate for the damaged ones and facilitate new connections.

The Cleveland Clinic group found that using electrical stimulation in rats after stroke appears to promote the growth of new neurons in the brain. Dr. Machado presented his findings in June at the world congress of the International Neuromodulation Society, whose members are clinicians, scientists and engineers.

“The expectation is that by applying stimulation, it will augment or boost the effects of physical rehabilitation,” Dr. Machado says. “We have no expectation that it will cure stroke.”

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