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Research Snapshot: U of M study finds new, effective therapy for children with cerebral palsy

Bernadette Gillick, Ph.D., works with a patient to improve her function of movement in a recent therapy session.

A University of Minnesota researcher has discovered that combining brain stimulation and a common form of stroke therapy known as constraint-induced movement therapy can improve recovery of function in children with cerebral palsy who have suffered a stroke.

The study, first authored by Bernadette Gillick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Program in Physical Therapy, was recently published in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.

It’s important to note that the forms of non-invasive brain stimulation Gillick investigates are painless, and have shown no evidence of seizure or other serious adverse event. Also, this therapy has the potential to be applied in the clinical setting, simultaneously with rehabilitation training.

“My overall career goal, in combining physical therapy with neuroscience, is focused on making a significant, positive impact on the lives of children with cerebral palsy through advancing neurorehabilitation,” said Gillick.

Here’s how the therapy works:

In constraint-induced movement therapy, the arm less affected by stroke is temporarily constrained by a mitten or cast during therapy sessions, allowing unique training of whichever arm is more affected. Treatment focuses on training and activity in the more affected arm in isolation.

Gillick and colleagues have also found that by using non-invasive brain stimulation in stroke patients, brain cells that were inactive due to stroke injury have the potential to reactivate and contribute to improved function.

The research team led by Gillick found that when combined and applied to patients battling cerebral palsy, the treatment approach can improve hand function in children with weakness due to stroke.

“If we are able to maximize the potential recovery of a child who had a stroke early in their life, the potential impact throughout their lifetime could be positively influenced,” Gillick added.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the estimated current lifetime care costs for someone with cerebral palsy is $1 million. Gillick’s proposed therapy has the potential to decrease the cost of care throughout the patient’s lifetime and improve activity levels and function.

With the help of the children and families who participate in her studies, she now investigates multiple forms of non-invasive brain stimulation to continue this discovery.

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