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Brain stimulation device set to improve depression in stroke survivors



The brain stimulation device has the potential go improve the quality of life of stroke survivors

One in three stroke survivors experiences depression within five years of it happening, but a new device could help reduce this by utilising brain stimulation.

A study from the University of South Australia found that using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) improved depression among its patients.

The researchers delivered around 30,000 electromagnetic pulses to each stroke survivor’s brain over the course of two weeks, which showed positive changes in brain function.

This is the first time rTMS has been trialed on a large scale, with 11 patients volunteering for the research. Stroke survivor Saran Chamberlain was 38 when her accident occurred, leaving her paralysed down the left side of her body.

She took part in the study, saying: “When I heard about this trial using repetitive brain stimulation I was keen to try it to see if it made any difference.

“It did, and the effects lasted several months. I am still on antidepressants but I have reduced the dosage quite markedly. This really has made a difference to my life!”

Pharmaceutical drugs such as antidepressants are usually prescribed for patients suffering from low mood, which can often lead to negative side-effects.

Partly funded by the Honda Foundation, the brain stimulator treatment offers a non-invasive, alternative for stroke survivors.

As well as this, the device has the potential to improve motor recovery post stroke, with early signs suggesting that the treatment helps develop new connections between damaged parts of the brain.

Dr Brenton Hordacre was the study’s lead author and he said the benefits of the study will extend beyond the community.

“A stroke is a life-changing event in itself, bringing about personality, mood and emotional changes, so there is a very strong link between stroke, depression and anxiety.

“The advantage of using rTMS to treat depression is that it has relatively few side effects compared to pharmacological treatments.

“It can also be delivered over several sessions but the improvements in depression last well beyond that period.”

The device officially launches at the University in 2021, with the group’s students set to be trained in how to deliver the therapy under supervision.


Arm and hand function could be regained following spinal cord injury through new pioneering research



Treatment could be developed for arm and hand dysfunction in people living with spinal cord injury through a pioneering new research project.

A pilot study of new therapy for improving upper extremity function is now underway, following funding from BrainQ Technologies – an Israel-based startup which is working widely in precision medicine to reduce disability following neurodisorders – to the Kessler Foundation.

The study is titled ‘The safety and effectiveness of the use of a brain-computer interface-based electromagnetic field treatment in the management of patients with chronic spinal cord injury: A pilot study’ and is seen as a potentially significant breakthrough in researching possible treatment.

It will be led by Dr Ghaith Androwis, a research scientist in the Centre for Mobility and Rehabilitation Engineering Research at Kessler Foundation, and Dr Steven Kirshblum, senior medical officer and director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program for Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, who received the grant to further their work in the field.

Thousands of new traumatic spinal cord injuries occur each year, with statistics showing around 17,500 of those are from the United States alone, and more than half of those people experience loss of motor function of the upper extremities which limits their independence and adversely affects their quality of life.

“To achieve the best outcomes after spinal cord injury, restoring arm and hand function must be a priority in rehabilitative care,” says Dr Kirshblum.

“This study is an important first step towards increasing the ability of individuals to function more independently at home, in their communities, and the workplace.”

During the study – which will be conducted in the US and Israel – researchers will test the safety and efficacy of noninvasive low frequency electromagnetic field stimulation delivered via the BQ System.

Individuals with spinal cord injury (duration 18-30 months) will participate in the 34-week study. Functional status will be measured at baseline and compared with status following the experimental treatment.

By quantifying gains in motor function, motor control and activities of daily living, this pilot study will provide preliminary information on the potential application of BrainQ’s therapy in rehabilitation programs for individuals with disability.

“We are very interested in testing the effectiveness of this novel and non-invasive approach in persons with spinal cord injury,” adds Dr. Androwis.

“Such interventions may improve participants’ performance of activities of daily living leading to gains in their overall quality of life. This particularly is important when an intervention can be provided simultaneously with conventional therapy.”

This multi-site study is being conducted at Kessler Foundation, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Miami, and Sheba Medical Center, Israel.

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Smoking linked to stroke in new study 



Guido Falcone, assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine, was the senior author of the study

Adults who smoke, or are genetically predisposed to smoking behaviours, are more likely to experience a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), new research has revealed.

The study found that while smokers are at a higher risk of SAH, that rises to over 60 per cent among those with genetic variants that predispose them to smoking.

The research, published in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, establishes a link between smoking and the risk of SAH for the first time.

While it has been proven in other types of stroke, this is pioneering research in its link with SAH – a type of stroke that occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of the brain ruptures and bleeds into the space between the brain and the skull.

Results of the study show:

  • the relationship between smoking and SAH risk appeared to be linear, with those who smoked half a pack to 20 packs of cigarettes a year having a 27% increased risk;
  • heavier smokers, those who smoked more than 40 packs of cigarettes a year, were nearly three times more at risk for SAH than those who did not smoke; and,
  • people who were genetically predisposed to smoking behaviours were at a 63% greater risk for SAH.

Researchers also stated that while their findings suggest a more pronounced and harmful effect of smoking in women and adults with high blood pressure, they believe larger studies are needed to confirm these results.

“Previous studies have shown that smoking is associated with higher risks of SAH, yet it has been unclear if smoking or another confounding condition such as high blood pressure was a cause of the stroke,” says senior study author Guido Falcone, assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine.

“A definitive, causal relationship between smoking and the risk of SAH has not been previously established as it has been with other types of stroke.”

During the study, researchers analysed the genetic data of 408,609 people from the UK Biobank, aged 40 to 69 at time of recruitment (2006-2010).

Incidence of SAH was collected throughout the study, with a total of 904 SAHs occurring by the end of the study.

Researchers developed a genetic risk scoring system that included genetic markers associated with risk of smoking and tracked smoking behaviour data, which was collected at the time each participant was recruited.

“Our results provide justification for future studies to focus on evaluating whether information on genetic variants leading to smoking can be used to better identify people at high risk of having one of these types of brain haemorrhages,” said lead study author Julian N. Acosta, neurologist, postdoctoral research fellow at the Yale School of Medicine.

“These targeted populations might benefit from aggressive diagnostic interventions that could lead to early identification of the aneurysms that cause this serious type of bleeding stroke.”

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Link between brain injury and cancer could yield new treatment approach



The research comes from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto

Brain cancer could be triggered by the healing process from a brain injury, new research has said, in findings which could yield new breakthroughs in patient therapies.

The tumours of 26 patients with glioblastoma were analysed in the Canadian research project, and found that mutations can affect the process of new cells being created, which can therefore stimulate tumour growth.

“Our data suggests that the right mutational change in particular cells in the brain could be modified by injury to give rise to a tumour,’ says report author and neurosurgeon Peter Dirks, from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“Glioblastoma can be thought of as a wound that never stops healing.

“We’re excited about what this tells us about how cancer originates and grows and it opens up entirely new ideas about treatment by focusing on the injury and inflammation response.”

In the study, published in Nature Cancer, researchers used single-cell RNA sequencing and machine learning technologies to map out the molecular make-up of glioblastoma stem cells.

The team found new subpopulations of glioblastoma stem cells which bear the molecular hallmarks of inflammation and are comingled with other cancer stem cells inside patients’ tumours.

These findings, Dr Dirks said, suggest that some glioblastomas start to form when the normal tissue healing process — which is supposed to generate new cells to replace those lost to injury — is interrupted by mutations.

The mutant cells will then continue to multiply, spurring tumour growth, although it may be many years before a patient becomes symptomatic.

In the research, cells from the tumours of 26 patients were collected, and in total almost 70,000 were analysed using single cell RNA sequencing. 

The team found evidence of ‘extensive disease heterogeneity’ and that each tumour contained multiple subpopulations of molecularly-distinct cancer stem cells.

This will, therefore, make cancer recurrence more likely, as existing therapies are unable to wipe out all the different ‘subclones’.

However, as a result of this understanding, new therapies and bespoke approaches could be developed.

“We’re now looking for drugs that are effective on different points of this gradient,” adds co-author and cancer genomicist Trevor Pugh, from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

“There’s a real opportunity here for precision medicine — to dissect patients’ tumours at the single cell level and design a drug cocktail that can take out more than one cancer stem cell subclone at the same time.”

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