This new aphasia research is personalization at its best. Rather than treat every brain the same, researchers are designing brain stimulation programs for individuals by using brain scans. They’re mapping how each individual uses their brain when recalling words.
NAA Board Member, Dr. Peter Turkletaub, is involved in a new research study pairing brain stimulation and speech therapy. If this sounds familiar because you watched the Netflix documentary, My Beautiful Broken Brain, it does bear similarities to the therapy Lotje received in the film. Where it differs is the new route of personalization.
About the Study
National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided funding for the study to Soterix Medical, a biotechnology company working with University of North Carolina and Georgetown University to launch this research.
Each person accepted into the study receives a brain scan that maps the area of the brain the individual is using to find words. That information is then used to design a layout for the electrodes on the scalp so researchers will be stimulating the exact area the person uses for verbal tasks. Every stroke is different and every brain is different, so tailoring the treatment to the individual will hopefully improve therapy results.
Finally, the person with aphasia receives a mild form of electrical brain stimulation called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) through those electrodes. At the same time, they receive computerized speech therapy designed to improve word finding. This technique is safe enough that researchers can actually go to the study participant’s home rather than holding the treatment in a hospital setting.
Joining the Study
People can still apply to be part of the study. Individuals wishing to be considered can contact researchers in the study through the University of North Carolina or Georgetown University via email or a phone call to see if you qualify.
Elizabeth H. Lacey, PhD
UNC Chapel Hill
Marsha Rodriguez, CCC-SLP
Participants are in the study for three weeks, receiving in-home speech therapy and brain stimulation Monday through Friday.
Of course, this is a randomized controlled study, which means that while everyone gets the speech therapy, some participants will receive the real brain stimulation and some will have the electrodes placed on their heads but not receive the stimulation. Neither the participants nor researchers will know which group they’re in until the end of the study. This way the researchers will know whether this new therapy is valid and helpful, and the role brain stimulation plays in making speech therapy more effective.