CINCINNATI—A University of Cincinnati (UC) researcher has been awarded $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study language recovery after stroke and test a new method of rehabilitation from loss of language function.
A team led by Jerzy Szaflarski, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology and member of the UC Neuroscience Institute, will use functional MRI to examine the changes the brain undergoes while recovering from a stroke resulting in loss of language functions, a symptom known as aphasia.
Functional MRI, also known as fMRI, uses magnetic resonance imaging to study brain function. Incorporating “real time” sequence, this non-invasive technique can be used to follow changes in brain functions in response to normal development and abnormal function loss triggered by an event such as a stroke.
Szaflarski’s study will use fMRI to map changes in language activation patterns and determine language localization after left middle cerebral artery (LMCA) stroke. For most healthy people, language functions are located in the left side of the brain, but in patients with brain injury there may be some rewiring of the brain. The brain’s ability to rewire may affect its ability to recover after injury, and this study will test the influence of different factors on recovery of language after stroke.
Szaflarski’s team plans to test the effectiveness of a new method of aphasia rehabilitation called constraint-induced aphasia therapy, which forces patients to slowly constrain their communication methods until they communicate only verbally, without using gestures, non-word sounds or writing. This is an intensive approach to aphasia therapy over a short period of time.
In a 2008 pilot study, Szaflarski’s team showed that patients who underwent constraint-induced aphasia therapy following LMCA stroke showed substantial improvements in comprehension and verbal skills.
“Loss of language functions is one of the most feared symptoms of stroke,” says Szaflarski. “We hope to tap the brain’s recovery potential by furthering our understanding of how the neural circuitry supporting language functions responds to acute injury associated with stroke.
“In addition, we plan to demonstrate that constraint-induced language therapy administered one year after the occurrence of stroke positively influences language recovery when compared to traditional care.”
Seed funding for the pilot study was provided by the UC Neuroscience Institute, a center of excellence in neuroscience specialties at the UC College of Medicine and University Hospital.