A novel approach to vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may enable successful post-stroke recovery without the need for “invasive and often-uninsured” traditional VNS therapies.
A paper published in the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair by Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) researchers outlines a method by which sensors are placed on the upper arm and in the ear of the patient. A connected computer then sends timed electrical impulses to the vagus nerve during motor rehabilitation.
According to Bashar Badran (MUSC, Charleston, USA) and colleagues, this may lead to accelerated treatment outcomes and improved motor function after stroke versus established VNS procedures, whereby a device is implanted into the neck to provide direct stimulation. Known as motor-activated auricular VNS (MAAVNS), the new approach could allow patients to gain the same amount of motor function improvement in four weeks that those with an implanted device can reach in six weeks—without requiring surgery.
“Motor rehabilitation is time consuming and expensive, and oftentimes does not produce the results that patients want,” said Badran. “Technology like the MAAVNS system can boost the effects of conventional motor rehabilitation, and help patients get the most out of their therapy in a simple and relatively inexpensive manner. It is very exciting.”
The MAAVNS system can be incorporated into occupational therapy settings with little impact on the current standard of care, according to the researchers. It also detects when the patient is moving, delivering hundreds of repetitions of electrical stimulation per hour and allowing them to focus on specific movements they want to improve.
Badran noted that the stimulation being administered alongside movement is “critical”, with work being done out of MUSC showing outcomes are “much better” when timed in conjunction with patient movement in this ‘closed-loop’ setup.
While the sample size for their pilot study was small, Badran and his team will be conducting a larger clinical trial next to further evaluate the effects of non-invasive VNS therapy.