The first sensational reports on successful trials of optic nerve atrophy cure started to appear in world mass media in the late 1970s. Most of the reports were describing tiny electrodes implanted into human brains, and eyesight restoration by means of electrostimulation, which initially reproduced a kind of artificial vision.
Later on, many newspapers published stories and photos of people who had been totally blind since birth who, after getting such electrodes, started to distinguish large objects and bright colors. Soon such reports became more frequent in the world's press. Most Russian publications referred to the Human Brain Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg (those days Leningrad) and the renowned scientist and neurosurgeon academician Ms. Natalya Bekhtereva.
Having total optic nerve atrophy in both eyes myself with no light perception, I at that time was thrilling with interest to the subject and wrote several letters to the institute. The answer I've got confirmed that the media stories were true, but they reported that then they were taking for treatment only those patients who had accidental recent brain trauma and needed neurosurgery anyway. And, moreover, a hope of vision restoration could, as a rule, have only patients with at least a bit of light perception.
I had neither fresh trauma nor any light perception, so I decided to keep waiting for a further scientific breakthrough to happen. Well, at last my dream came true after nearly 30 years.
Recently in Russian Braille and audio-cassette magazines there again appeared some information about new methods of treating optic nerve atrophy and other related disorders in the laboratory of the Human Brain Institute in St. Petersburg. In reply to my e-mail inquiry, lab official Anton Feodorov sent me rather detailed information (36 kilobytes of e-text format in Russian) about their research, practice and recent developments, which I found very interesting and hopeful. So I decided to share this encouraging news with "Braille Forum" readers. The Malfunctioned Sensory Systems Restoring Laboratory
Many human ailments resulting in considerable deterioration or total loss of vision and/or hearing -- those most important sensory functions of the human brain -- do not submit to medical treatment, even with the very up-to-date therapeutic, surgical or other traditional methods. Both the disorders of visual and auditory functions themselves, and their causing illnesses may lead to disturbances of the human brain functioning; the restoration of lost sensory functions could be possible only by stimulating the nervous system. In such a case, improvement can be obtained either by means of stimulating the affected segments of the optic or auditory systems, or by stirring up of the human brain's "inner reserves."
The scientific and practical activities of the Sensory Systems Laboratory research are just focused on the exploration of specific induced conditions that take place in the human central nervous system in response to medicinal electric effects upon afferent entries of the cerebrum sensory systems, as well as studying the possibilities of their adjustment and restoration under pathology. The scientists and experts developed the "Electric Impulse Modulating Effects Method," which makes it possible to help the patients whose sensory systems were impaired or damaged. The method was based upon the neuro-physiological findings obtained in the institute by the research team led by academician and HBI Chief Scientist Natalya Bekhtereva.
Having summarized the laboratory team's more than 30-year-long electrostimulation experience research, it's become possible to perfect the principles and create a new kind of medical treatment requiring neither implant nor any surgery at all, hence no risk for the patient's life or health.
The parameters of applied electrical impulses are similar to those generated by the human nervous system. This similarity allows positive influence upon neural cells of the human brain which haven't yet perished but lost their functions at the impact of illness, as well as upon the neural centers themselves responsible for sensory information processing.
This method is being used to treat various visual function disorders: optic nerve atrophy of various derivations, such as pregnancy pathology, fetal hypoxia, newborn brain trauma, toxicosis and miscarriage threat; infectious diseases such as meningitis and encephalitis; brain inflammation, intracranial trauma, etc.; retinal degeneration disease, ambylopia, progressive myopia, spasmodic accommodation disorders, computer display sickness and many others. It also works fairly well for restoration of sensorineural hearing impairment of multiple derivations such as congenital, various pregnancy problems, neural infectious diseases, ototoxic antibiotics, narcotics, cranial trauma and other origins.
The treatment is painless, it causes no side effects and -- most importantly -- it doesn't have any age-rating limitations. The stimulation procedure is easy, convenient, effective, and can be performed even in outpatient offices. Computer-based apparatus and software, developed by laboratory specialists to use the Electric Impulse Modulating Effects Method, was oriented to mimic frequency-amplitude characteristics of the human brain's visual and auditory projection nerve centers. The method proved to be very effective and patient-friendly.
During the testing and curing procedure, the patient is simply sitting in an armchair. The apparatus' multi-channel vision-stimulating electrodes are applied externally at specific points on the patient's face and fixed with the help of special spectacles. The auditory analyzer's electrodes are mounted on the patient's head like a pair of headphones. The passive electrode is put on the patient's wrist like a bracelet.
During the stimulation, a patient might feel as if he/she sees quick bright flashing of colors and, possibly, slight pricking, that's all. One session lasts about 30 minutes.
Assessment of the treatment efficacy is a somewhat complicated matter because each result depends, first of all, on the patient's individual condition. However, optic nerve atrophy, once considered an incurable disease, is becoming curable.
Appraisal of laboratory treatment results revealed that the treatment produced some additional positive effects. The Electric Impulse Modulating Effects Method came into use to treat neuropathology of childhood (the psycho-motor and psycho-verbal delay syndrome), as well as for effective restoration of speech and memory disorders, and integration into the program of speech development for hearing-impaired children and even sometimes to help multiple sclerosis patients. This method for visual and auditory impairments along with other lab-invented diagnostic and treatment technologies were copyrighted by the Russian Federation.
Along with the electric impulse stimulation technique, the experts developed and began using another innovative method -- so-called "Nozoto- Therapy." It is based on stirring up the spare personal capabilities of a human organism, which have to do with correction of immune disorders having been provoked by a disease. The method has been applied for treatment of vision and hearing ailments.
Both methods mentioned above could be used both in stationary and dispensary conditions. However, if the visual and/or auditory function disorders of a patient are accompanied by a neurologic and somatic pathology, the medical treatment should only be implemented in clinical condition of the HBI.
Treatment begins with a physical examination by the lab's specialists (neuropathologist, neuro-ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist and speech therapist). Patients receive a neuro-physiological examination along with examination of the impaired sensory functions (electro-encephalogram, induced visual potentials, objective audiometry) and finish with electrical stimulation. The individual course of treatment, based upon results, consists of 10 to 15 daily electrostimulation sessions.
When the treatment is completed, patients receive a secondary examination, after which a proper drug therapy may be prescribed. In the case of major pathology presence, as a rule, the recurrent treatment courses may be administered after four to six months.
The most distinctive feature of the HBI laboratory's practice, in comparison with other medical centers treating the similar kind of pathologies, is its long-term experience implementing the Electric Modulating Impulse Stimulations method as the mainstream technique against the hard cases of ophthalmological and neuropathological disorders. The method's efficiency proved to be nearly 55 percent.
The close cooperation with other HBI laboratories, which are equipped with up-to-date high-tech diagnostic and treatment instruments, contributes to the cure rate. Also, the laboratory team is permanently carrying studies of foreign colleagues' newest achievements and is ready to share its own experience and scientific projects with those willing to cooperate, whether foreign entities or individual colleagues.
The laboratory personnel provides close attention and careful service to their patients, beginning with that patient's clinic survey, throughout the course of treatment, and extends to further post-treatment medical support when needed. The cost of one course (for a Russian citizen) is about $100. For foreign patients, it may be several times that amount. Yet I believe the cost of treatment is a far cry from the pile of money required for implant neurosurgery.
Unfortunately, the Human Brain Institute web site doesn't have much information in English. However, using the materials given to me by the lab official, I believe I could answer some questions from "Braille Forum" readers. I do not know whether they have an English-speaking person on their telephone service. But their contact information is as follows:
Laboratory manager: Alexandra Chibisova
Lab contact person: Anton Feodorov
Mailing address: Sensory Systems Laboratory, Institute of Human Brain, 9 Academician Pavlov Street, St. Petersburg, Russia 196376. Phone and fax: (7812) 234 56 79. E-mail [email protected]; web site, http://www.sensys.ihb.spb.ru.
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