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Neuro rehab technology

2023 Stroke Tech trends

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SR Times takes a deep dive at what trends we will see in stroke tech this year.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Dr Terry Quinn, member of the British and Irish Association of Stroke Physician believes that Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) will still remain the “hot topic” for next year, due to non-invasive methods of VNS now being available.

But, what is VNS?

It is a type of neuromodulation that is used as a treatment for various neurological conditions. By sending electrical pulses to the brain through the vagus nerve, it increases neuroplasticity. 

These electric pulses release neuromodulators in the brain that can strengthen or create neural connections, which can improve upper limb function and enhance the relevance of physical therapy.

Invasive

For the traditional invasive method of VNS, a small device is surgically planted under the skin in the upper left chest area. 

After a week of recovery period, a therapist will use a device that communicates with the device to signal it to deliver a gentle pulse to the vagus nerve, meanwhile, the person will perform specific everyday tasks like preparing food.

Non-Invasive 

For non-invasive methods, a device such as ElectroCore’s. gammaCore noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation device is placed on a patients neck over the vagus nerve. The Device will then stimulate the nerves different fibres. 

Funding the future

The Stroke Association funds research into new and improved ways of treating stroke, we spoke with Head of Research at the Stroke Association, Richard Francis on the projects they are currently funding.

He says: “It’s a really exciting time for technology in stroke research. We’re very pleased to be funding a number of projects that make innovative use of technology.  

“The research we’re funding addresses the issues that were identified by the Stroke Priority Setting Partnership as those that matter most to people affected by stroke.

“We hope the results of this research will help build on our current understanding to bring about effective treatments to help rebuild lives after stroke.”

We spoke to the Stroke Association about some of the projects they are helping to fund.

Machine learning

Professor Emily Sena of the University of Edinburgh is using machine learning to how we carry out preclinical stroke research – laboratory experiments that can inform clinical trials. Sena’s work helps to identify better methods for preclinical research and also helps to reduce bias and increase relevance of this research to real-life experiences of stroke patients.

Virtual Shopping Trip

Research has found that 9 in 10 stroke survivors say that they have at least one cognitive impact, as they struggle with the likes of memory or concentration.

Sam Webb, a PhD student at the University of Oxford, is working on a project that he hopes will provide survivors and their loved ones with the support they need and provide a better way to detect what kind of problems they may face in their daily lives.

Webb says: “Many stroke survivors do not get screened for impairment in complex mental abilities at all, and if they are, the tests used are too specific, too abstract, and not aphasia friendly. 

“I want to ensure that the tests one uses in hospital settings and the community to screen for complex mental abilities are the most accurate and informative tests available and suitable for most stroke survivors.”

The virtual ‘shopping trip’ task is for use in hospitals in order to identify the cognitive problems stroke survivors are facing and what support they may require.

“This [research] may aid in providing refined and validated tools for cognitive assessment in stroke survivors, but the use of the tool is not limited to stroke survivors. It can be used with many different clinical groups as it takes functions that are not stroke specific.”

Artificial Intelligence

Margarita Saranti is a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, the focus of her research is on aphasia, a communication problem that effects an estimated 2 in 3 stroke survivors.

Saranti is at the beginning of her PhD and will be developing artificial intelligence methods that can predict the extent to which stroke survivors are likely to recover their communication skills, as well as explain how it has reached its decision.

On her research, Saranti says: “I have had stroke survivors in my family and close environment, and I have seen how difficult having to deal with its consequences is.

“I want to help towards giving the families of stroke survivors the guidance, support, and relief I would have wanted to offer my own family.”

The ‘white-box’ AI could help to improve personalisation of aphasia treatment, reduce time spent on treatments unlikely to work and also save time and emotional distress for survivors and carers.

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