Local researchers leading study on infant stroke rehabilitation

Roanoke researchers leading nationwide clinical trial

ROANOKE, Va. – Researchers in Roanoke are leading a groundbreaking nationwide study to help infants who suffer strokes.

The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC was awarded a $13.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the trial.

"[Infant strokes are] very common. It's actually almost as common as adult stroke," said Sharon Landesman Ramey, a distinguished scholar of human development with the institute.

More than 3,000 infants are diagnosed every year. Babies who suffer strokes when they're under 1 month old are at the greatest risk for long-term consequences.

"About half of them will have some permanent impairment in their neuro-motor functioning, also often in language and even in cognition," Ramey said.

The trial uses a new therapy called I-ACQUIRE. About 240 8- to 24-month-old babies will undergo the intensive four-week trial. During the rehabiliation program, babies wear a cast on their dominant arm to build strength on the other side, which usually becomes limp or weak after a stroke.

The goal is to reinforce daily skills like eating, reaching for toys or playing.

"We're shaping very small movements and making them bigger and faster and stronger," Ramey said.

Starting in June, researchers at the institute, including Stephanie DeLuca, will train clinicians who'll be running the trial at 12 sites across the country. They willl treat babies for the next three years and follow their progress at least six months after therapy. Then, they will examine the data for two years after the trial.

"We believe that we're encouraging the brain to make connections that aren't naturally developing in these children," said DeLuca.

In smaller trials, more than 90 percent of babies have benefited. If the larger trial is a success, researchers say this treatment could change how infant stroke victims are rehabilitated in the future.

"These children are very vulnerable. They very much need a kind of therapy that will alter their life trajectories and increase the probability that they'll become functional, contributing students and adults," Ramey said.

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