Strokes on the Brain

Amir Ali | Assistant Editor of Natural Sciences

FAST. F = face drooping. A = arm weakness. S = speech difficulty. T = time to call 911.

Picture that you have just left your apartment and are walking to class. You are listening to your favorite band on your ear buds, and it cannot get any better. Suddenly you lose your balance and have trouble seeing the sidewalk in front of you. You are having this experience for the first time and are confused. In just a  moment, you are sure that you are about to shrug off whatever you have just felt, but, instead, you recall a URJ blogpost about specific stroke signs. You quickly take out your phone and smile on the front-facing camera….you see a half-crooked smile and have trouble saying “The sky is blue.” After some quick thinking, you quickly dial 911. You are having a stroke.

Twelve million strokes occur every year around the world, and around 87% of these are ischemic strokes, which take place when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Sadly, eleven million people who are having strokes do not even realize that they are having one! Unnoticed strokes result in victims having an even more difficult recovery because it results in the delay of fast medical attention. Those who realize they are undergoing a stroke are able to receive medical attention faster. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of ill-health and disability for adults, possibly due to late hold of medical attention and lack of awareness.

On November 9, 2015, Dr. Argye Hillis, M.D., the professor and deputy director of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, visited the University of Texas at Austin, as a part of the Neuroscience Seminar Series. Her research focuses on the monitoring and modulation of cognitive recovery in the first year after a stroke. A stroke can have permanent implications on the brain, such as tissue obstruction in the brain, paralysis, vision problems, and  memory loss.

According to Dr. Hillis’ research, a stroke increases beta amyloid plaques, which has been indicated to directly cause Alzheimer’s disease. Her research utilizes advanced imaging tools, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), perfusion weighted imaging (PEI), and battery of language tests to analyze stroke damage and recovery.

Networks are sometimes restored to normal structure after restoration of blood flow. Her tests have indicated restoration in language, cognitive function, changes in action and connection, and the changes which occur in empathy (emotions) after stroke.

The restoration of blood flow in has in some cases helped to restore language. Dr. Hillis and her lab combined a unique methodology involving task-related and resting-state functional connectivity MRI in order to hypothesize the neural basis of recovery of naming, spelling, lexical-semantics (word meaning), and sentence comprehension over the first year after stroke.  Through functional imaging (fMRI) the research group indicated the restored brain tissue and reorganization of language circuitry from blood flow.

The Hillis lab also looked at cognitive function restoration of a right hemisphere stroke through restoring blood flow as well as how the “incident stroke was associated with a decline,” said Dr. Hillis. The lab group recorded the frequency and importance of other deficits associated with hemispatial neglect through loss of empathy and emotional expression. Emotional impairments can most certainly have devastating impacts on patients and their families. Neural connections were analyzed through tests for degradation of empathy, intonation, rate, pauses, and stress.

One test in particular was done for some hundreds of stroke patients to indicate improvement or degradation of language and emotion. For this test, each patient was given a photograph and was prompted to write about what he or she thinks is happening in the picture. The results indicated was that patients with more devastating stroke damages used succinct sentences and overall more syllables. A majority of stroke patients  with language and emotion deficit did not take into account crucial events in the photograph such as the overflowing sink or the dishes falling on the kitchen floor.

Research is being conducted all across the United States to mediate and to learn more about the causes, short-term, and long-term effects of strokes. Dr. Argye Hillis has indicated major ways to investigate the damage incurred on the brain by  strokes and the ways to assess recovery of language, emotion, and cognitive function in patients that experienced strokes.

It can be understood that recovery from a stroke is not a simple and likely task. In the light of learning about Dr. Hillis research we must not forget the prevention strategies for serious damage which may incur upon us during a stroke. If we are having any of symptoms mentioned in FAST, we should not hesitate to call for emergency. F = face drooping. A = arm weakness. S = speech difficulty. T = time to call 911.  

Please note: The neuroscience seminar series are held on Mondays, NHB: 1.720 at 3:00 PM. Scientists from all around the United States present their research in order to inspire and show students and  professors what their research is all about. This past Monday, November 17, Dr. Gagan Wig Ph.D., the director of the cognitive neuroimaging laboratory at the University of Texas at Dallas, presented on the concepts and principles of brain networks observed over healthy adult lifespan. Keep an eye out for these events!!


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