Remarkable rehab gains for stroke survivors

RehabSwift in action

The RehabSwift setup in use.

An innovative therapy may help stroke survivors regain more movement in their hands, with a University of Adelaide study finding patients experienced a reduction in arm and hand impairments following treatment.

Around a dozen South Australian chronic stroke patients underwent a novel personalised brain-computer interface therapy as part of the study, the results of which have been published in PNAS Nexus.

“Our findings show a remarkable improvement in hand movement and a clinically significant reduction in post-stroke arm and hand impairment following 18 sessions of this therapy,” said senior co-author Associate Professor Mathias Baumert from the University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering.

“The results indicate that personalised brain-computer interface therapy helps to rewire and restore the brain’s neural pathways, which are damaged as a result of stroke.”

The RehabSwift therapy, which has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, involves wearing a cap and hand exoskeleton. The cap captures the brain waves generated when the patient wants to move their hand. A computer algorithm translates these brain waves into commands for the hand exoskeleton worn by the patient, which makes their hand and fingers physically move. This process can be personalised to a patient’s individual neurocognitive characteristics.

“We assessed the patients’ reaction time, sensorimotor impairment, functional performance of upper limb, pinch and grip strength and individualised goals, with 75 per cent of patients reporting clinically significant improvement in upper limb movements,” said the University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor Anupam Datta Gupta, a physician who specialises in rehabilitation medicine and co-authored this study.

“In more promising signs, those positive effects continued for at least four weeks after treatment. However, this needs to be investigated further by a randomized control trial.”

One in four people worldwide will suffer from a stroke during their lifetime. One of the biggest killers in Australia, the life-threatening medical condition occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted either by a blood clot or burst blood vessel. This causes brain cells to die at a rapid rate, potentially leading to brain damage, disability or death.

“Stroke often results in debilitating motor impairments, with almost half of survivors left with long-term disability despite undergoing conventional therapy. Although this was a small study, it shows the new therapy’s potential to transform the lives of survivors.” Senior co-author Professor Derek Abbott, Laureate Fellow from the University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering

RehabSwift is an Adelaide-based MedTech company based in ThincLab which was developed from research conducted by Sam Darvishi during his PhD studies at the University of Adelaide. Researchers would like to extend the study to a larger cohort of patients, with the intention of examining the long-term effects of the treatment to determine if it could be used as a standard therapeutic approach.

“The results of this study are clinically relevant, producing meaningful changes in the lives of patients. With ongoing research, this innovative therapy could become an important tool in the rehabilitation toolkit, improving the lives of stroke survivors and enhancing their recovery journey,” said Associate Professor Baumert.

Tagged in featured story, stroke therapy, research