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Stroke rehabilitation breakthrough

Stroke patients have been found to regain brain function after six months thanks to a novel robotic device that they squeeze with their hand.

It was previously believed that stroke rehabilitation was only possible up to a period of three to six months, after which further improvement was unlikely.

The study by Dr Aria Tzika at Massachusetts General Hospital may be the first time that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been used to map the brain to track rehabilitation.

Tzika found that after a stroke the brain is able to regain function through rehabilitative exercise, even as long as six months later, longer than most experts would think possible.

For the study, five right-handed patients squeezed a special robotic device with the affected hand for one hour a day on three days a week for four weeks.

The researchers took fMRI scans of the patients' brains, enabling them to measure very small changes in blood-oxygen levels in parts of the brain active for those particular movements.

They showed a significant increase in activity of the left brain, the part involved when the right hand is used. It remained active for several months after patients stopped doing the exercises.

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Massachusetts General Hospital