There are from time-to-time medical breakthroughs worth noting because they significantly improve the lives of a lot of people.

On August 27 of this year, the FDA approved the Texas Biomedical Device Center for its new vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) stroke treatment.

A stroke happens when a part of the brain is starved of oxygen and the brain cells die. Brain cells and other nerve cells do not recover or regenerate. Once they are killed, their function ceases and so does the activity they enervated.

Historically, and using conventional recovery techniques, stroke patients could recover a small amount of motor function during the first six months following a stroke.

According to an April, 2021 Lancet published study, VNS treatment increased upper extremity function by two to three times compared to conventional therapy.

That is remarkable, and it could mean the difference between an affected hand making only trifle movements to being able to pick a cup of coffee, or more.

VNS has been used to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. The team lead, Dr. Michael Kilgard, expanded its use into stroke recovery. The device sends an electric stimulus into the vagus nerve each time the stroke patient is doing a motor exercise.

I don’t believe anyone understands how or why it works, but it is safe (though there was one non-life threatening surgical complication in the study) and we can’t argue with positive results.

The treatment doesn’t make dead nerve cells come back to life. Rather, VNS trains other parts of the brain to take on the tasks previously done by damaged cells. It should work even for patients who are years out from a stroke.

Texans should be proud of the work Dr. Kilgard and his faithful team have done over a decade to get to this point. As a physician, I appreciate the new treatment option for my stroke patients whose lives could benefit tremendously from this treatment.