Aphasia is the loss or impairment of the ability to speak or write, and it can result from damage in the area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension. Damage can be a result of stroke, head injury, brain tumor, infection, or dementia.
For now, the only treatment for aphasia is speech and language therapy, which helps patients learn other ways to communicate. However, research led by Penn Medicine shows that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) might help stimulate brain repair by helping the brain “reorganize” signals around the damaged area.
TMS is a non-invasive technique that excites neurons in the brain via magnetic pulses passed through the scalp from coils of wires. It has been approved by the FDA to treat major depression since 2008, and pain associated with certain migraine headaches since 2013. In 2020, Penn launched the Brain Science, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation (brainSTIM) Center, which brings together a team of leading neuroscientists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and engineers at Penn using neuromodulation techniques to research, repair, and enhance human brain function—the first multidisciplinary translational center of its kind in the region.
Currently, TMS is only approved to treat a limited number of conditions. While not yet available to patients, researchers at Penn Medicine are hopeful that their ongoing studies will illustrate broader applications for this innovative, noninvasive treatment method, and emphasize the importance of continued funding for further research.
“Imaging reveals that people tend to rely on the left side of their brain for language, but patients with aphasia actually use both. This tells us that brain functions are a lot more flexible than we previously thought,” says Roy Hamilton, an associate professor of neurology and physical medicine and rehabilitation, and director of the brainSTIM Center in the Perelman School of Medicine. “Our research, which is currently under a phase II clinical trial, shows promising evidence that when we use TMS to target the damaged areas of a patient’s brain that is causing aphasia, the brain is able to recruit different, healthy parts of itself, and create new pathways, bypassing the injured area,” he explains.
This story is by Kelsey Odorczyk. Read more at Penn Medicine News.