A trial at the U of M is helping stroke victims regain their strength

At just 52-years-old, Charles Madson suffered a stroke. In the year since, he's relearned to talk and walk, and now he has jumped at the chance to be part of medical trial at the University of Minnesota – a trial that is showing some surprising results.

The University of Minnesota, another location in Texas, and a third in the United Kingdom are the only places people can take part in this VNS stroke trial. The aim of the study is to improve arm function in patients between 30-80 years old that have had a stroke more than four months ago and less than five years ago.

“It's so frustrating when it takes you so long to do the simplest of things,” Madson said of his life prior to the trial. ”Frankly I don't know how old people survive them at all.”

The trial involves a surgical implant permanently placed onto the vegus nerve in the neck and another device similar to a pacemaker in the chest. The devices are then stimulated, with a push of a button, during physical therapy to try and wake up dormant neurons and help strengthen connections to the brain -- all in hopes of improving struggling movements.

“It's like rehabilitation or physical therapy -- with a boost,” said Dr. Teresa Kimberly who is leading the trial sponsored by the medical device company Microtransponder.       

At the beginning of the trial, Diane Larson couldn't unscrew the top off her soda bottle, but today it's much easier.

“As a physical therapist I’ve never seen anyone at her stage in recovery makes as big a gain as she has,” Dr. Kimberly.

Larson is thankful the study, and the physical therapy that came with it, have pushed her to work on basic movements.

“I never considered myself handicapped and that was good it gave me reason,” Larson said of the therapy.

Her partner Brent Bunkowske agrees about Larson’s improvement, “In reality I got my girl back, it's just a miracle, I just think it's a miracle.”

Just half way through Madson doesn't know for sure whether he's part controlled part of trial or if he's getting the real thing, but based on huge strides he's made in just a few weeks the VNS stroke trial looks to be very promising.

“I couldn't even grab things when I first came here,” Madson said. “I'm just thankful that I got into this study.”             

This is a pre-FDA trial, meaning there is a long way to go before this will hit the mainstream. The U of M  is looking for more people to participate in the trial. For more information on the trial click here.