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Stroke remains the biggest cause of disability in the UK, and completely changed the life of celebrated broadcaster and political journalist Andrew Marr in 2013. The life-threatening stroke resulted in his family being told twice that he was unlikely to survive, and if he did, that he may never regain normal speech, cognitive function or movement.

None © Icon Films/BBC
Andrew underwent tDCS and physiotherapy in an attempt to improve his motor function

Thanks to intensive rehabilitation early in his recovery, his speech returned and he was able to resume work, however his lack of movement in his left hand side remains a constant frustration.

A documentary, broadcast on BBC2 on 14 February 2017, detailed his journey though early recovery and his recent attempts to achieve improved motor function.

As part of the show, Andrew underwent a combined brain stimulation and upper limb physiotherapy intervention, based on our research published last year in Science Translational Medicine. The intervention involved multiple repeated sessions of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) delivered to his lesioned hemisphere while he performed a series of repeated upper limb physiotherapy style activities.

The previous research compared delivery of real and sham stimulation in two groups of patients, while both groups completed the same rehabilitative programme. Greater improvements in movement were seen in patients who received real compared to sham (placebo) brain stimulation. Better scores in patients who received real stimulation were still present three months after training ended. These findings suggest that brain stimulation could be added to rehabilitative training to improve outcomes in stroke patients.

In Andrew's case, very little or no improvement was seen at the end of the intervention. Charlotte Stagg, the senior author of the previous study, explained that there was usually a small amount of noise in the measurements used to assess improvement, depending on tiredness and fatigue. There is also currently no way to assess who will benefit most from the intervention before starting.

Andrew Marr: My Brain and Me is available on BBC iPlayer now.

Links to further media coverage of the show can be found below:

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