By Tom Lillicrap

The days of thinking that the brain cannot recover from injury after a severe insult are well and truly behind us and there is a wealth of animal data indicating that not only does injury provoke immense recovery mechanisms but that these mechanisms affect the whole brain. However we are still trying to not only understand the recovering brain, but also realise the limitations of our own tools. Our preferred advanced imaging tool is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which has an extensive arsenal of techniques to measure brain function and composition from functional MRI to spectroscopy and diffusion tensor imaging. These imaging techniques easily and reliably produce detailed and beautiful maps of brain fibres. However, these techniques still require refining. Even more importantly we still struggle to truly know what these techniques are telling us about individual patients. Thanks to these uncertainties, we have a truly exciting research path before us.

Over the past year we have been working to build a database with the aim of measuring ‘normal’ stroke recovery.  This database will provide us with clues about what separates those patients who experience a good recovery from those who do not, which in turn will provide targets for future interventions in stroke recovery.

The picture (above) has 3 images from the same patient, showing the progression (shrinking) of the lesion in their brain over 3 months after their stroke. The original lesion is shown in the picture on the left where the green lines cross.

This is the sort of recovery we hope for and will try to recreate in other patients when we have some targets for interventions from our current database.