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Sep 12, 2011 | News Asia Pacific

Scientists focus on brain for treatment of swallowing disorders

by Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

ADELAIDE, Australia: Magnetic brain stimulators could help stroke patients overcome life-threatening swallowing difficulties, Australian scientists have reported. In a clinical study conducted at the University of Adelaide (UA) in South Australia, researchers are currently investigating how the process of trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, non-invasive electromagnetic stimulation of cerebral nerve cells, could help to regain control of mouth and throat muscles damaged by cerebrovascular accidents.

 

According to UA speech pathologist and lead researcher Dr Sebastian Doeltgen, swallowing disorders affect more than 50 per cent of patients suffering from the effects of a stroke. In Australia, for example, 35,000 stroke patients per year temporarily lose their ability to control their swallowing.

If untreated, the condition can lead to severe health conditions like silent aspiration, dehydration or even pneumonia, which can be life threatening, especially for elderly patients.

Common therapies to overcome the problem include physical exercises to improve the coordination of mouth and throat muscles. The new therapy approach developed by Doeltgen and his team uses magnetic stimulation to create electric currents in the brain that stimulate the nerve cells that the scientists believe control the complex process of swallowing.

Similar techniques were successfully used by German researchers earlier this year to stimulate cerebral nerve cells in rats.

“When people have a stroke, the parts of their brain that control the muscles in the mouth and throat are often damaged and we have to find ways to reactivate these regions,” Doeltgen said.

The initial results of the study, which has received governmental funding of AU$300,000 (US$313,000), are expected to be released in 2 to 3 years.

 

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