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Mapping brains to find the route to recovery

At Alberta Children’s Hospital, Dr. Cherie Kuo spends her days making maps – intricate 3D pictures of the brains of school-age children who have experienced a stroke.

“Depending on how the brain is organized, the hope is to better understand how a child will respond to a treatment and who will respond better,” says Dr. Kuo, a CPSR-funded post-doctoral fellow who recently completed her PhD in kinesiology and neuroscience at New York’s Columbia University.

There are 10,000 children in Canada living with perinatal stroke (a stroke that occurs shortly before or after birth), and 1,000 of them live in Alberta.

Using a new high-tech robot – it looks like a futuristic chair attached to a computer — Dr. Kuo gathers precise brain images by delivering imperceptible magnetic pulses to the scalp. At the same time, electrodes on the child’s arm and hand measure muscle movement.

Once a brain map is measured, children receive physical therapy and/or brain stimulation to regain movement in their weakened limbs. After treatment, magnetic stimulation is performed again to measure changes to the original map that was identified prior to therapy.

“Brain maps determine how interventions should be delivered,” says Dr. Kuo. “An individual child’s brain map changes with improvement in function.” Colours on the brain map represent the magnitude of the muscle responses.

It sounds complicated, but kids involved in Dr. Kuo’s study are seated and focused on a Disney film while she gathers valuable data. They get prizes and stamps, a picture of their brain and therapy results when the research is completed. Every child also receives a series of home exercises.

For her part, she says she is thrilled to be able to work with the CPSR’s Dr. Adam Kirton, a pediatric neurologist who specializes in stroke, because “he is the leader of the field.” In the end, she hopes their maps lead the way to improved stroke recovery.

 

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