Helping stroke patients recover their speech

Academy Fellow Professor Cathy Price FMedSci is Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging at UCL. Her research focuses on how people can recover the power of speech after stroke.

Not being able to speak to family and friends is one of the most devastating consequences of stroke. Patients desperately want to know if they will recover, but currently clinicians can’t provide accurate predictions.

When someone suffers a stroke, the blood supply to a part of their brain is cut off, causing irreparable damage. My work aims to predict recovery based on precisely where in the brain that damage has occurred.

I’m studying hundreds of stroke patients and documenting their rate of recovery. At the same time, I’m using state of the art neuroimaging to find out which parts of the brain have been damaged.

These predictions are proving to be very useful and our findings have important implications for the types of therapy a patient needs. For example, if we know a patient has the capability to recover their speech, therapy can focus on speeding up that recovery.

On the other hand, if recovery is likely to be slow and challenging, then patients need to be prepared for this and they will need much more help to learn new ways of communicating.

Importantly, almost all the patients we assess tell us that they desperately want to be given these realistic expectations.

Understanding whether, when and how speech and language will recover is a bit like using Google Maps to plan a journey. For example, let’s take a journey from London to Manchester. The quickest route is via the M1, but if that route is blocked there will be a multitude of A roads that may be slower but can still get you there. For speech, we’re using brain imaging to find which routes are blocked and to discover whether there are alternative routes that are still available.

My relationship with the Academy of Medical Sciences began in 2014 when I was elected a Fellow and I have benefitted from an Academy leadership course. Recently I took part in media training and networking with BBC journalists aimed at increasing the representation of women scientists on television, radio and in news. I also received my Suffrage Science Award at the Academy’s Headquarters in 2018.

The support I have been given from the Academy has provided new ways of addressing and expressing research questions, particularly in relation to engaging the public. It’s also been great fun meeting other researchers and discovering how they have pursued and broadened their careers.

With my work, I hope to improve the quality of life for many patients after stroke.

I’m fortunate to work in a centre that specialises in cutting-edge brain imaging equipment and techniques. This means I learn new things about how the brain works every day.

Ultimately, I want my work to make an important contribution to science, and particularly to patients with brain damage and language difficulties.

Professor Cathy Price is a Fellow of the Academy. To find out more about supporting the work of the Academy, please see our dedicated support us webpage . 

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