University of Oxford
Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability. Over time partial recovery can occur because the brain has a natural capacity to reorganise its functioning to overcome injury. My research goal is to understand and enhance these brain processes to improve stroke recovery.
Half of patients suffering damage to the right side of the brain suffer from a condition known as ‘neglect’. Such patients behave as though the left half of the world does not exist. They may bump into doors on the left side, eat only the right half of a meal or dress only the right half of their body. Patients with neglect are unaware of their problems, so treatment is difficult.
A behavioural procedure called ‘prism therapy’ can transiently improve neglect. During this procedure, patients wear prism glasses that make objects appear shifted to the right. This results in rightward pointing errors. However, patients can adapt to the prisms and learn to point accurately. This learning produces a leftward pointing error after the prisms are removed. While this effect is present, neglect is improved. A brief session of prism therapy can improve neglect for up to 24 hours later.
The goal of my research is to test whether, by stimulating patients’ brains during therapy, this could produce even longer lasting clinical improvements.
Results to date suggest that this is a very promising therapeutic approach. By applying weak electrical current to the brain during prism therapy, patients’ symptoms were significantly improved, and this benefit lasted for several weeks to months.
Potential impact of the work:
One third of neglect patients suffer life-long disability. The findings from this research to date suggest a new method of enhancing neglect treatment after stroke. This method could offer a cheap, effective form of stroke therapy, which will enhance patients’ quality of life, and alleviate the burden on families and healthcare systems.