A new electronic device the size of a mobile phone could transform aftercare for stroke patients and help them regain movement and control of their hands.
The small bit of kit, which is being tested in medical trials, delivers a series of weak electrical shocks followed by an audible click to strengthen brain and spinal connections.
Developed by neuroscientists at Newcastle University, it is thought this could revolutionise treatment for patients by providing a wearable solution to the effects of stroke.
Stuart Baker, Professor of Movement Neuroscience, said: "We have developed a miniaturised device which delivers an audible click followed by a weak electric shock to the arm muscle to strengthen the brain's connections.
"This means the stroke patients in the trial are wearing an earpiece and a pad on the arm, each linked by wires to the device so that the click and shock can be continually delivered to them.
"We think that if they wear this for four hours a day we will be able to see a permanent improvement in their extensor muscle connections which will help them gain control on their hand."
The techniques to strengthen brain connections using paired stimuli are well documented, but until now this has needed bulky equipment with a mains electricity supply.
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the team looked at how to strengthen connections in the reticulospinal tract, one of the signal pathways between the brain and spinal cord.
This is because when people have a stroke, they often lose the major pathway found in all mammals connecting the brain to spinal cord.
The team first carried out tests on primates, which changed their thinking on how to activate the pathways.
Professor Stuart Baker said: "We would never have thought of using audible clicks unless we had the recordings from primates to show us that this might work. Furthermore, it is our earlier work in primates which shows that the connections we are changing are definitely involved in stroke recovery."
Working with experts at the Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata, India, a clinical trial involving 150 stroke patients will now get underway.