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Clinical trial targets stroke victims

December 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
For many, strokes can cause great disability, making even simple tasks next to impossible. Now a unique trial is helping these patients get back what they've lost.

Though he's only 23, stroke patient Spencer Telligman has made his mark as an artist.

"You're putting paint on canvas and it feels great, it's just awesome," said Spencer.

In January, a stroke took away the use of his right hand, the only one he uses to paint.

"I've been worrying since it happened that I wouldn't be able to do anything anymore," said Spencer.

A unique clinical trial is restoring his confidence, and much more.

Patients do repetitive exercises and play games wearing a motorized robotic arm to help retrain their brains and make their own arms function.

"Let's say that the patient can do 10 percent, then the robot will do 90 percent, and as you get better, if you can move 50 percent, the robot will move 50 percent," said Dr. Andrew Butler Professor, Emory University Dept. of Rehabilitation Medicine.

There's one more key element to this trial: a drug that helps the brain re-learn.

"The drug targets that system, the learning and memory system," said Dr. Butler.

After a lot of hard work, Spencer's arm function is improving. Spencer has started drawing again.

"It's not at the level it used to be at but like, I can draw," said Spencer. "I feel like in the future like I can do anything."

A portrait of a young artist who's getting his life back, one day at a time.

The robotic arm used in the Emory University study electronically measures strength and range of motion to monitor patients' progress on a daily basis. Studies in Taiwan have shown that robot-assisted therapy has measurable benefits for patients whose arms are weakened by a stroke.


STATS: Stroke is the third leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of serious, long-term disability in the U.S. Each year more than 700,000 Americans suffer from stroke, and approximately 85 percent of stroke survivors experience partial paralysis on one side of the body.

BACKGROUND: A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted or severely reduced. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die causing permanent damage. There are two major types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications. The good news is that strokes can be treated and prevented, and fewer Americans now die of stroke. Better control of major risk factors, high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol, is likely responsible for the decline.

ROBOTICS: Robotic technology uses robotic devices to assist impaired limbs with performing repetitive motions, helping them regain strength and function. Robotics is one area of technology that has seen robust growth in rehabilitation applications, so much so that the presence of robotic devices in rehabilitation centers has become an expectation among patients, their caregivers, and therapists. Although rehabilitation robotic devices afford the opportunity to provide high doses of repetitive movement in a reliable and controllable manner, the role they play in the continuum of clinical care remains uncertain. Robotic-assisted therapy may be an effective alternative to enhance hand function recovery in patients with stroke.

EMORY'S STROKE CENTER: In 2002, MBNA America Bank made a significant contribution to the stroke program with a $7.5 million gift establishing the Emory-MBNA Stroke Center at the Emory Clinic. In 2005, Emory-affiliated Grady Memorial Hospital was the first public safety-net hospital in the country to be certified as a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Emory University Hospital joined Grady as a Primary Stroke Center in 2006. From 2005 to 2007, stroke and related cerebrovascular disease research funding at Emory increased 25 percent, from $7.5 to $9.4 million, and includes genetics, physiology, neuroimaging, rehabilitation, endovascular surgery and neurosurgery. From 2003 to 2007, the number of patients treated at Emory for stroke and related conditions increased by 36 percent, to nearly 1,700.