BACKGROUND: Many stroke survivors have significant long-term gait impairment, often involving foot drop. Current physiotherapies provide limited recovery. Orthoses substitute for ankle strength, but they provide no lasting therapeutic effect. Brain-computer interface (BCI)-controlled functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a novel rehabilitative approach that may generate permanent neurological improvements. This study explores the safety and feasibility of a foot-drop-targeted BCI-FES physiotherapy in chronic stroke survivors.<br /><br />METHODS: Subjects (n = 9) operated an electroencephalogram-based BCI-FES system for foot dorsiflexion in 12 one-hour sessions over four weeks. Gait speed, dorsiflexion active range of motion (AROM), six-minute walk distance (6MWD), and Fugl-Meyer leg motor (FM-LM) scores were assessed before, during, and after therapy. The primary safety outcome measure was the proportion of subjects that deteriorated in gait speed by ≥0.16 m/s at one week or four weeks post-therapy. The secondary outcome measures were the proportion of subjects that experienced a clinically relevant decrease in dorsiflexion AROM (≥2.5°), 6MWD (≥20 %), and FM-LM score (≥10 %) at either post-therapy assessment.<br /><br />RESULTS: No subjects (0/9) experienced a clinically significant deterioration in gait speed, dorsiflexion AROM, 6MWT distance, or FM-LM score at either post-therapy assessment. Five subjects demonstrated a detectable increase (≥0.06 m/s) in gait speed, three subjects demonstrated a detectable increase (≥2.5°) in dorsiflexion AROM, five subjects demonstrated a detectable increase (≥10 %) in 6MWD, and three subjects demonstrated a detectable increase (≥10 %) in FM-LM. Five of the six subjects that exhibited a detectable increase in either post-therapy gait speed or 6MWD also exhibited significant (p < 0.01 using a Mann-Whitney U test) increases in electroencephalogram event-related synchronization/desynchronization. Additionally, two subjects experienced a clinically important increase (≥0.16 m/s) in gait speed, and four subjects experienced a clinically important increase (≥20 %) in 6MWD. Linear mixed models of gait speed, dorsiflexion AROM, 6MWD, and FM-LM scores suggest that BCI-FES therapy is associated with an increase in lower motor performance at a statistically, yet not clinically, significant level.<br /><br />CONCLUSION: BCI-FES therapy is safe. If it is shown to improve post-stroke gait function in future studies, it could provide a new gait rehabilitation option for severely impaired patients. Formal clinical trials are warranted.
McCrimmon, C. M., King, C. E., Wang, P. T., Cramer, S. C., Nenadic, Z., & Do, A. H. (2015). Brain-controlled functional electrical stimulation therapy for gait rehabilitation after stroke: A safety study. Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-015-0050-4