Magnets May Stimulate Brain and Movement
WVU Researcher Awarded $1 million for Study

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Using magnetic fields to activate the brain and improve movement sounds like something out of a science-fiction novel.  But one West Virginia University neurologist is conducting research in hopes of finding a happier ending to a story she hears all too often – stroke patients suffering motor skill loss.

The National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke has awarded Cathrin Buetefisch, M.D., nearly $1 million to apply neurobiological principles to stroke patients’ rehabilitation.  She will use magnetic stimulation in the portion of the brain responsible for movement. 

Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability.

“We want to enhance physical therapy by stimulating the brain area that controls hand movements in stroke patients,” said Buetefisch, of the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.  “Part of the grant helps us to find the best parameter for transcranial magnetic stimulation.”

“We’re trying to activate the neurons that survived the stroke in the area where motor function is affected,” Buetefisch said.  “We’re looking at a very specific population of stroke patients.  Out of every 50 patients referred to us, we’ll be lucky if one fits all the criteria to participate in the stimulation study.”


Cathrin Buetefisch,M.D. (standing), uses part of her $1 million grant to study magnetic brain stimulation in stroke patients' movement rehabilitation using a cap-style monitoring device. 

The stimulation is painless.  Patients wear a cap-style monitoring device while a flat panel is gently placed against the head.  The panel sends out a magnetic field that induces current in the underlying brain and evokes responses in muscles that are detected on a monitor.

“Most patients don’t feel a thing while undergoing the magnetic stimulation,” Buetefisch said.  “It’s the same feeling you would have if you placed a common refrigerator magnet against your head.  Our technology is obviously much more sophisticated than that but the feeling is the same – painless.”

A portion of the funding, which is dispersed over a 4-year period, will examine which drug treatment therapies yield the best results for recovery after stroke. 

If the research shows promising results Buetefisch hopes to one day receive a grant for a multi-center clinical trial to test a combination of magnetic stimulation and drug therapy.

“Our hope is to improve the quality of life for stroke patients,” she said.  “If this treatment proves effective, we might be able to do just that.”

The Stroke Center at WVU has an emergency response team available 24-hours a day, seven days a week to evaluate and perform the appropriate treatment in time to minimize stroke damage.

For more information on the Stroke Center visit www.health.wvu.edu/services/stroke-center/index.html or speak with your physician for a referral.              

- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

Return To News Releases