New stroke therapy delivers electrical pulses to the brain

A new stroke therapy which delivers electrical pulses to the brain via a portable, pacemaker-type device during rehabilitation therapy will be tested in a pioneering trial.

It represents an attempt to improve arm recovery after stroke.

The new study is being led by researchers from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield, and is funded by a partnership between the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the Medical Research Council and the Association of British Neurologists Fellowship.

Additional funding has also come from the Stroke Association and Berkeley Foundation.

The research becomes the first to establish if a treatment – known as transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation – can improve hand and arm weakness in stroke survivors when used as a self-delivered treatment during stroke rehabilitation therapy.

The £2m TRICEPS trial will build on the results of a recent clinical trial which showed that stimulating damaged areas of the brain using invasive vagus nerve stimulation improved arm recovery in stroke survivors when combined with stroke therapy, more than therapy alone.

Up to 243 patients from 15 UK stroke centres are set to be enrolled into the trial during the next two years. Meanwhile, it will also involve researchers from the University of Nottingham and the University of Glasgow, alongside the University of Sheffield’s Clinical Trial Research Unit.

Professor Arshad Majid, Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explained: “We are really excited to be launching this new study. In a very small preliminary trial, we showed that gently ‘tickling’ a nerve at the ear using mild electrical pulses improved arm and hand weakness after stroke when used in conjunction with stroke rehabilitation therapy.

He concluded: “By conducting this trial, we also hope to provide definitive answers as to whether this is an effective approach in improving recovery after stroke that can be rolled out at scale to large numbers of patients on the NHS.”

Approximately 110,000 people suffer with a stroke in the UK every year and one third of stroke survivors are left with permanent arm weakness which can make daily activities difficult.