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Specialized cap helps stroke victims regain mobility

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Sixty-four year old Richard Arnold is a retired Missouri paramedic. Five years ago, he suffered a sudden stroke.

"I went and started leaning my head to one side. I don't remember that.  But I do remember not feeling well, and things were getting bad quickly," said Richard.

"They told me that he would never walk or talk," said Richard's wife, Kim Arnold,

Richard proved the doctors wrong, but his right side was weak and his hand remained paralyzed.

Eric Leuthardt, MD, Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine is an expert in the field of brain computer interface.  They are devices that let the brain communicate with computers; restoring signals that have been cut due to stroke or injury.

"Basically, if they've been injured on the right, we're taking signals from the left," Leuthardt.

Dr. Leuthardt and his colleagues are testing a stroke glove called an IPSI Hand. Patients wear a cap with sensors, connected to a computer. Then they think about moving their fingers.

"With continued usage, their brain is relearning how to control that hand," Leuthardt explained.

Richard does the therapy seven days a week. The Arnolds' say it's making a huge difference. 

"He would have to lie down and get his pants on, and sometimes in the beginning it would take 20 minutes. Now it's something that he just does like every day people do," said Kim.

"The best thing that I wanted to be able to do is hold my wife's hand," Richard said.

"The strength's coming back, and he's my Superman," exclaimed Kim.

Leuthardt has started a spinoff company, Neurolutions, to manufacture the equipment. To avoid a conflict of interest, another Washington University researcher is leading the testing phase of the clinical trial which is expected to be completed within the next six months. They are working with the FDA at this time.

Additional Information:

Despite being one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., there are nearly seven-million stroke survivors. A stroke can happen to anyone at any time, but your risk does increase with age. Up to 80-percent of strokes are preventable. Women experience more strokes than men each year simply because women live longer. Stroke kills twice as many women than breast cancer does each year. About one-fourth of the nearly 800-thousand strokes that occur each year are recurrent events. There are two types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when either a brain aneurysm bursts or a weakened blood vessel leaks. Hemorrhagic strokes are responsible for about 40-percent of all stroke deaths. Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. Ischemic strokes account for about 87-percent of all strokes. Teenagers, children, newborns, and even unborn babies are capable of experiencing a stroke. The risk of stroke in children is greatest in the first year of life and during the period right before or right after birth. Currently, stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children.
(Source: http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-stroke/stroke-facts)

MORE FROM DR. LEUTHARDT: According to Eric C. Leuthardt, MD, Director of the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology at the Washington University in St. Louis, there are 400,000-500,000 stroke patients a year and this number is only growing because we have an aging population. He says that one of the most common difficulties faced with patients who have had a stroke is loss of hand functions. While there are clot-busting drugs that can help restore blood flow, and physical therapy, about 40-percent of the patients are left with a permanent deficit in their hand after a stroke.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are testing a new system that will retrain the uninjured side of the brain caused by a stroke. If the stroke occurred on the right side of a patients' brain, the left side of the body is affected. The device takes signals from the brain of the side that is not affected and decodes the intentions. Dr. Leuthardt says the device is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that opens and closes the hand when the patient has the intention to move it. The device is in the process of being cleared by the FDA but should be available to patients in the next few years.
(Source: Dr. Eric C. Leuthardt, MD)