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Revolutionizing Brain Injury Treatment

Let's harness the power of neuroplasticity-based therapies.

Key points

  • Neuroplasticity aids brain injury recovery through adaptive rewiring.
  • Innovative neuro therapies enhance brain injury recovery via targeted exercises and cognitive training.
  • Tech progress, VR, and stem cell research fuel neuro-based brain injury therapies' bright future.
GDJ/ Pixabay
Source: GDJ/ Pixabay

with Tom Dutta

Brain injuries can devastate individuals and their families, leading to long-term disability, mental illness, and reduced quality of life. Traditional treatments have focused on minimizing damage and preventing further harm.

However, they do little to reverse or heal the severe injuries that a person has suffered leaving the fear of forever suffering from brain damage.

Recent research led by Steven C. Cramer, professor of neurology, anatomy and neurobiology, physical medicine, and rehabilitation at the University of California, Irvine, has uncovered a powerful tool for promoting recovery from brain injury: neuroplasticity. Clinicians are developing a new generation of effective and innovative treatments for brain injury.

The studies suggest that neuroplasticity can help with brain injury by showing that targeted rehabilitation exercises and cognitive training can improve cognitive and motor function and changes in brain structure and function.

What Is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to environmental changes. This ability allows us to learn new skills, form new memories, and recover from brain injury.

The mechanisms of neuroplasticity are complex and involve various processes, including the creation of new neural connections, the strengthening of existing connections, and the rerouting of neural pathways around damaged areas. A critical aspect of neuroplasticity is its responsiveness to environmental, behavioral, and emotional stimuli.

The brain's exposure to new experiences or challenges creates new neural connections to adapt to these changes. This process is known as experience-dependent plasticity and is the basis for many neuroplasticity-based therapies.

Another critical aspect of neuroplasticity is its ability to be modulated by various factors, such as age, genetics, and disease. For example, research led by Pascual-Leone and his Harvard Neurology School team investigated genetics' role in neuroplasticity revealing younger brains are generally more plastic than older brains, and specific genetic mutations can affect the brain's ability to undergo plastic changes.

An understanding of genetics, lifestyle, health, and past creative experiences is essential for developing effective neuroplasticity-based therapies customized to each patient's unique brain.

How Can Neuroplasticity Help Treat Brain Injury?

Neuroplasticity-based therapies harness the brain's ability to adapt and rewire in ways that traditional treatments often ignore or can't successfully stimulate. These therapies typically involve intensive, targeted training exercises where a patient's mind's main features and strengths activate to help him form new neural paths and regrow lost capabilities.

For example, constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) is a neuroplasticity-based therapy used to treat patients with upper limb impairment following a stroke. It involves restraining the unaffected limb and forcing the patient to use the affected limb to perform tasks, promoting new neural pathways in the affected area.

Another example based on neuroplasticity is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a magnetic field to stimulate specific brain areas. TMS has shown promise in promoting neuroplasticity and improving recovery in patients with traumatic brain injury.

Both of these techniques are supported by Mark George, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Sarah Lisanby, and Walter Paulus, all prominent members of universities, such as Harvard Medical School and the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Medical University of South Carolina, Duke University School of Medicine and the Duke-NUS Medical School, and the University of Göttingen.

The Benefits of Neuroplasticity-Based Therapies for Brain Injury

Neuroplasticity has changed how brain injury is treated by showing that the brain can reorganize and form new connections even after injury, leading to the development of new therapies that aim to promote and enhance this process to improve functional outcomes in patients with brain injury.

Traditional therapies for brain injury, such as physical and occupational therapy, often focus on compensating for lost function, solving a consequence rather than attacking the direct cause. While these therapies can help improve functional outcomes, they do not address the underlying neural changes after injury.

In contrast, neuroplasticity-based therapies harness the power of neuroplasticity to strengthen cognitive function and try to solve the leading cause behind the problem. These therapies target specific brain areas using techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, cognitive training, and constraint-induced movement therapy to encourage the formation of new neural connections and strengthen existing ones.

Because every brain injury is unique, a one-size-fits-all approach, as stated by Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself. Neuroplasticity-based therapies can be customized to target specific areas of the brain that have been affected by the injury. This personalized approach can lead to more rapid recovery and help patients regain their lost function.

The recovery of motor function in individuals with stroke-related brain injury using constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT), for example, is a neuroplasticity-based therapy that is effective for this particular ail.

The Future of Brain Injury Treatment

The future of brain injury treatment with neuroplasticity is auspicious. Advances in technology and a growing understanding of the brain's mechanisms of neuroplasticity are leading to new and more effective treatments for brain injury.

We are using virtual reality (VR) technology for neuroplasticity-based therapy. VR allows patients to engage in immersive, interactive experiences that can help stimulate the brain and encourage the creation of new neural connections. Many researchers believe this technology has the potential to revolutionize the field of neuroplasticity-based therapy.

Another area of promising research led by Michael Chopp, vice chairman of the Department of Neurology at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, is using stem cells for brain injury treatment. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can develop into various types of cells in the body, including neural cells.

Researchers are exploring using stem cells to promote neuroplasticity and regeneration in the injured brain. While this research is still in its early stages, the potential benefits of using stem cells for brain injury treatment are vast.

Ongoing research in this field suggests the future of neuroplasticity-based therapies for brain injury treatment is promising, with potential for further advancements and breakthroughs.


Cramer SC, Stauffer M, Awad Z, et al. Neuroplasticity-based therapies for brain injury: a review. Neurotherapeutics. 2018;15(2):389-403. doi:10.1007/s13311-018-0567-4

Pascual-Leone A, Fregni F, Merabet L, et al. Modulation of cortical excitability and function with transcranial magnetic stimulation: clinical applications. Neuroscientist. 2005;11(5):507-524. doi:10.1177/1073858405278312

George MS, Lisanby SH, Rachid F, et al. Daily repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for the acute treatment of major depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2000;48(3):351-358. doi:10.1016/s0006-3223(00)00873-7

Doidge N. The brain that changes itself: stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York: Penguin Books; 2007.

Chopp M, Zhang L, Zhang J, et al. Stem cell therapy for traumatic brain injury: a review of preclinical and clinical studies. Neurotherapeutics. 2012;9(2):217-234. doi:10.1007/s13311-011-0092-x

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