Winter 2019

Stimulating idea

Bernadette Gillick explains to Carson Skildum, a participant in her study, how a TMS coil works. TMS is used to stimulate the brain.
Photography by BRADY WILLETTE

Stroke affects as many as one in 2,300 infants worldwide and is a primary cause of cerebral palsy (CP) in children.

Such realities led University of Minnesota neuroscientist Bernadette Gillick, ’11 Ph.D., to look for a way to help those kids. Gillick and her team conducted the first-ever study that combined two treatments to enhance motor skills in children with stroke-induced CP: noninvasive brain stimulation and temporarily restraining use of the less-affected hand to encourage use of the one that’s more affected. 

Of the 20 participants, ages 7 to 21, those who received the combined treatment had significantly improved hand function compared with those who received a placebo. Gillick’s team also found the treatment had few, if any, side effects. 

“Improving even a small percentage of function could enable them to live independently,” Gillick says of children with stroke-induced CP.

She’s now extending her study to infants and young children. A 2017–19 McKnight Land-Grant Professorship is enabling her to focus on this work, as are gifts and grants. “To my knowledge, we’re the only ones in the world investigating this,” she says. “Every donation helps support the people I’m training and the families that need our assistance.”

Hear what inspires Bernadette Gillick:

UMN Health