Aphasia took center stage on Wednesday after actor Bruce Willis announced he has the condition, but it’s something Julius Frederickson has been familiar with for years.
As director of the aphasia lab and principal investigator at the University of South Carolina’s Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (C-STAR), Fredrickson and a team of researchers have spent years trying to help people with the condition. In fact, the lab was in the middle of a five-year, $12.5 million study on two methods of recovery and their efficacy.
“We are one of the three largest aphasia centers in the world,” Fredrickson said. “We are certainly one of the highest funded groups in the world.”
What is aphasia?
Aphasia usually occurs due to strokes. This communication disorder, which affects approximately 30% of stroke survivors, results from a brain injury that affects the patient’s ability to speak, listen, read and write. The severity of aphasia can range from very mild symptoms, such as coming out with the correct words when speaking, to very severe problems such as difficulty understanding and speaking.
Fredrickson said the Midlands area of South Carolina has one of the highest rates of stroke in the country.
“South Carolina is one of the ideal places to do this research because the stroke rate is so high,” he said.
Aphasia lab studies aim to improve communication function after stroke. Anyone who has had a stroke and is now having difficulty communicating is eligible for his research. According to the lab’s website, the research enables stroke survivors to receive an MRI that will be available to them upon request. Participation in the research is also free.
In 2016 Fredrickson won a $11.2 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders — one of the largest research grants USC has ever seen. Fredrickson authorized the creation of C-STAR under the Aphasia Lab umbrella. .
From 2016 to 2020, the team of researchers used the grant to better understand the individual responses and recovery of stroke patients with acute or chronic aphasia. Their projects have included identifying factors that predict individual responses to different treatments, providing aphasia therapy and electrical brain stimulation to new patients to improve the brain’s recovery environment, combining brain imaging with primary testing to accurately predict expected recovery and comparing neuropsychological models of speech and language in people who have not experienced a stroke or injury. For those who recover.
The researchers are currently in the middle of the second, five-year study phase, thanks to another $12.5 million in funding grants. They have expanded their work to include two new clinical trials and two major projects.
One trial was to test whether tele-rehabilitation – rehabilitation performed at a distance – is as effective as in-person rehabilitation for aphasia.
The second trial was testing whether the antidepressant escitalopram improves early recovery from aphasia in patients who have recently had a stroke.
Both projects used artificial intelligence to predict stroke recovery, based on brain health and an understanding of how language takes root in the brain.
“We’re trying to translate science into clinical practice,” Fredrickson said. “We’re trying to figure out how to make the brain heal itself.”
This story was originally published March 31, 2022 10:13 am.