International interest in study findings | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - March 2006

International interest in study findings

Researchers at Newcastle Upon Tyne and Keele Universities have been working towards the development of a non-invasive test for ‘spasticity’. The three-year project followed on from previous Action Medical Research funding and involved measuring the involuntary, or reflex, responses of arm muscles in stroke patients, to study the altered muscle activity and identify key features of spasticity.

Spasticity is a condition where damage to the brain or spinal cord results in uncontrollable muscle contractions. This in turn leads to muscle stiffness, which can seriously affect everyday life, interfering with movement, speech and walking, and can also cause pain and deformity. Thousands of people who suffer stroke, head injury, cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis are left with a degree of spasticity. A reliable test would allow doctors to make more accurate diagnoses regarding a patient’s level of spasticity, helping to provide better therapy.

The research, conducted with a grant of over £85,000, showed that there are changes in the mechanisms of the central nervous system controlling muscle activity, which contribute to the patient’s disability.

^This is important progress in our understanding of spasticity, and has given researchers other lines of thought for further research.^ The work has generated considerable international interest, leading some clinicians to consider alternative methods of treatment. In fact, the findings have already begun to promote changes in practice in some rehabilitation centres in the UK, improving services for patients.

More research is needed before a device to measure spasticity is commercially available, but the team intend to continue with their efforts. Professor Johnson, who headed the project, told us, “Funding from Action Medical Research has given us the opportunity to advance our understanding of this aspect of neurological disability very substantially.We are now strongly placed to seek further funding to put our new knowledge into routine clinical practice.”

A contribution towards the cost of this project has been made by The W A Handley Charity Trust.

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