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Brain stimulation: the future of stroke rehab


Can we enhance post-stroke rehabilitation for patients? With new research, scientists are exploring the possibilities.

Stroke remains a leading cause of long-term disability in Canada, making rehabilitation and recovery essential for survivors’ quality of life after discharge.

Bruyère is one of eight sites across Canada conducting clinical feasibility trials for repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a brain stimulation technique that could have enormous potential to help stroke recovery patients.

Rehabilitation requires many repetitions to relearn tasks post-stroke, but rTMS works to prime the brain before a patient’s rehabilitation session so uptake is improved.

From research to practice

Jodi Edwards, PhD, Investigator at Bruyère Research Institute, is a principal investigator for the Canadian Platform for Trials in Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation (CanStim), working to develop protocols for non-invasive brain stimulation research for stroke rehabilitation.

The non-invasive brain stimulation technique isn’t new – it is already used to treat mood disorders and there is experimental evidence showing its potential in stroke recovery.

“We really feel like this could be game-changing for augmenting patients' ability to relearn functions and get them back into community quicker,” said Edwards, who is also the Director of the Brain and Heart Nexus Research Program at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Her goal is for Canada to see definitive clinical trial evidence of rTMS therapy paired with rehabilitation to support integration of the technique into clinical practice.

The future of care

This comes at a time where advances in acute care medicine means more people are surviving stroke than ever before.

Gordon Bryant suffered a stroke in the spring of 2023 and came to Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital for rehabilitation, where he was offered an opportunity to participate in the rTMS clinical trial. He shared the memory of how his father had previously had a stroke, and how it inspired him to be a part of research when he found himself in the same situation.

“Our research is centered on improving care and outcomes for our patients,” said Lisa Sheehy, PhD, Affiliate Investigator at Bruyère Research Institute. “Stroke rehabilitation is a critical part of helping survivors attain the best possible quality of life, and we hope science can help increase the options that we can offer our patients.”