New platform can provide necessary research capacity in non-invasive brain stimulation methods

Together, Brain Canada and the Heart & Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery (CPSR) are awarding $1.9 million to this initiative over three and a half years through the Brain Canada Platform Support Grant (PSG) program.

Co-led by Dr. Alexander Thiel, a clinical neurologist at the JGH and Senior Investigator at the Lady Davis Institute, along with neuroscientists Dr. Jodi Edwards of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) and Dr. Numa Dancause of the Université de Montréal, CanStim is the first platform of its kind in the world. It draws on the collaborative efforts of pre-clinical and clinical researchers working together to accelerate discovery and move new research into clinical practice.

CanStim features a unique translational approach towards stroke rehabilitation and recovery research by integrating pre-clinical and clinical research from the project inception.

The platform will provide the necessary research capacity in non-invasive brain stimulation methods, such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), to develop and optimize novel approaches for people living with stroke disabilities and other neurological disorders. Additionally, CanStim will provide opportunities to trainees across Canada to explore new interdisciplinary approaches to studying stroke recovery.

"CanStim will bring developed devices to the patient faster by accelerating clinical trials and it will offer our expertise in pre-clinical research to develop new tools with industry partners," said Dr. Thiel, a Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University. CanStim's integrated design will encourage rapid advances in optimizing the protocols for using TMS in the clinic for stroke rehabilitation.

Dr. Thiel has been studying the use of TMS to optimize how the brain selects recuperative pathways to regain lost functionality following a stroke. These techniques seem to be most effective in the first days and weeks following the stroke, while the brain is still in the process of reorganizing itself to compensate for the loss of function.

As soon as the patient undergoes TMS, they are given physio- or speech therapy to facilitate this reorganization process. Thus far, the results of Dr. Thiel's work have been promising. He has shown in clinical studies that patients given TMS within four weeks of a stroke event, in conjunction with traditional speech and language therapy, exhibited three times better recovery from aphasia than did those treated with speech and language therapy alone.

However, to move these techniques into daily clinical practice as approved therapies, the effectiveness of brain stimulation needs to be demonstrated in larger clinical trials. With CanStim, Dr. Thiel has initiated a platform to enable such multicenter clinical trials in Canada and to accelerate the transition of these new techniques into everyday rehabilitation for the benefit of stroke patients.

Stroke recovery is a huge public health issue in Canada. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Stroke, there are more than 405,000 Canadians living with long-term disability from stroke - and the number is expected to almost double by 2038.

New technologies like brain stimulation hold so much promise for people recovering from stroke. It's very exciting to have a national effort of this scale focused on this new approach."

Katie Lafferty, CEO, Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery (CPSR)

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