Saturday, December 13, 2008

Using Cutting Edge Technology, Stroke Victim and Guitarist of The Long Blondes Hopes to Regain Use of Right Arm and Play Guitar Again

[caption id="attachment_209" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Not quite bionic, but he may play guitar again"]Not Quite Bionic, But he May Play Guitar Again[/caption]

I don't think it's quite the "bionic hand" of the telegraph headline, but it's an interesting story: The young guitarist of the popular indie rock group The Long Blondes suffered a stroke and can no longer move his right arm. Now, with the help of some new technology he may play guitar again.

My understanding is that the supposed bionic hand, called the SaeboFlex, provides support for the hand so that less effort is required while the patient is relearning to move their body. A real "bionic hand" would do actual work, and while they do make those, it's not for stoke victims, it for people who loose their hands.

 

After a stroke, a portion of the brain is literally dead, and the only treatment currently available is to get other parts of the brain to compensate. This is a slow and often very frustrating process for patients, because it involves being told to move their arm (or whatever is paralyzed). On the first day, they absolutely cannot do this, and they may find the whole thing preposterous, and want to give up right then and there. Day-by-day and week-by-week, however, they learn to move their arm again. Often the therapist has to employ tricks, such as restraining their other arm, because it's so tempting for the patient to just use the other arm when asked to do tasks, because the other arm works. Rarely do they recover full use, but scientists are starting to appreciate the full extent of the brain's "plasticity", that is, it's ability to reconfigure and repurpose itself, and they have ever increasing hope for future techniques.

New techniques include all sorts of stuff beyond what would seem like therapeutic exercise, although these are improving as well. I worked in a lab that researched the effects of rTMS which was a technique that uses powerful electromagnets to induce electric currents inside the brain at repeated intervals. This seems to encourage the brain to be more "plastic" for some reason. Research into TMS (the non-repeated version) and rTMS was originally expected to be revolutionary, but has turned out to just be very useful, although I'm unaware if anyone's actually using it in hospitals.

Thanks to extrapepperoni and slashdot for bringing this to my attention.

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