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tDCS Brain Hacking Tech Boosts Stroke Recovery

Zapping the brain during therapy has long-lasting effects for stroke rehabilitation

2 min read
tDCS being performed on a healthy volunteer

Scientists from Oxford University say that a particular variant of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has a positive, long-term effect on the ability of stroke victims to move their arms when combined with a nine-day course of physical therapy.

The experimental treatment involves attaching electrodes to a person’s head and running direct current through the leads while the patient undergoes a series of therapeutic exercises meant to help limbs weakened or paralyzed by stroke. Crucially, according to the researchers, the anode (positive electrode) is attached to the side of the head where the patient’s stroke damage occurred. Variations in electrode polarity and placement maybe one reason that tDCS’ effects on memory and cognition have been so inconsistent.

Twelve patients were treated, while twelve experienced a sham treatment—they got the physical therapy and wore the electrodes, but no current flowed.

On two of three measures of recovery, patients that received tDCS during their therapy were significantly better off even three months later. In fact, the difference between those in the therapy and conrol groups only grew more pronounced as time went on. MRI scans of the patients’ brains showed that those in the tDCS group had more activity in the relevant brain areas for motor skills than those in the control group.

The Oxford scientists hope that tDCS can make a little therapy go a long way. “For stroke patients, longer and more intensive training leads to greater recovery. However, cost and staff availability limit what can be provided,” Heidi Johansen-Berg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Oxford said in a press release. “That means that there is increasing interest in therapies that can be used to boost the effects of training.”

Johansen-Berg and her colleagues reported their results in this week’s issue of Science Translational Medicine.

tDCS isn’t the only technological fix in the works for stroke. Houston, Texas–based Microtransponder has been developing an implant to help remodel the brain after stroke or to battle tinnitus. That company’s system sends pulses along the vagus nerve in the neck and up into the brain while the patient undergoes physical therapy designed to improve movement. This stimulation is thought to release neurochemicals that make the brain better able to adapt and learn.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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