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New light on stroke treatment

There are 15 million people affected by stroke every year. In England alone over 150,000 have a stroke and it is the third largest cause of death after heart disease and cancer. Because strokes often cause brain damage, strokes are also the largest cause of adult disability in the UK, leaving thousands who will never recover their former independent lifestyles.

As we grow older, the risk of having strokes greatly increases. While today we know a lot more about the cause of strokes (usually because blood supply is stopped due to a blood clot), there is no cure although aspects of life can be improved through different treatment and rehabilitation methods.

A lot of research is being done across the world on all aspects of stroke and one of the latest findings involved the use of beams of light.

It has just been announced that researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that directing beams of light into specific areas of the brain could help to activate cells to aid recovery after a stroke.

Professor Gary Steinberg

This sounded such a vital step forward that LaterLife decided to contact Stanford to find out more.

The team was lead by Professor Gary K Steinberg, MD, PhD, who is the Chair, Neurosurgery, at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Evidently, his team have been looking at how optogenetic techniques could be used to improve stroke recovery.

Optogenetics really don’t mean a lot to me! Probably like you, I needed a Janet and John version of what was going on. It seems what has happened is that the researchers have used optic fibres to send light into specific areas within the brain. A light sensitive protein in the targeted brain cells is exposed to specific light wavelengths which activate it and causes it to fire up.

Of course, as with so much advanced medicine, it is somewhat more complicated than that, but it seems that this activity allows specific parts of the brain to be stimulated. The initial experiments have been used on mice and the results showed that the animals could move further and more quickly that those who had not received the light treatment. Furthermore, after the light stimulation, the mice showed enhanced blood flow in their brain compared with untreated post-stroke mice.

Professor Steinberg said that they found direct stimulation of a particular set of nerve cells in the brain - in the motor cortex - was able to substantially enhance stroke recovery.

Most people know today that prompt treatment is vital for stokes and the sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen. What was especially interesting in this research was that the light driven stimulations enhanced recovery in the mice even up to five days after a stroke occurred.

Another plus was that after the light activity, the mice showed increased levels of specific proteins which are associated with nerve cells responding better to certain experiences such as practice and learning.

Anything that could be used to help post stroke recovery would be a major breakthrough. The next step, according to Professor Steinberg, is to determine whether the improvement is sustained in the long term.

"The goal is to identify the precise circuits that would be most amenable to interventions in the human brain, post-stroke, so that we can take this approach into clinical trials,” he said.

There is a lot of information about strokes on the NHS website:

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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

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