Soft strokes

By • Published: November 23rd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You may never think of the hair on your chinny, chin, chin the same way again.

UC Irvine researchers say strokes can be avoided in rats simply by stimulating one of their whiskers.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for taking more than one hundred thousand lives each year.

While there are lots of differences between people and rats, the discovery begs the question. Should people be rubbing their own whiskers? And are people without facial hair missing out on a cerebral safety net?

When a stroke occurs, an artery carrying oxygen to the brain either ruptures or is blocked by a clot, which kills massive numbers of brain cells.

In rats, the scientists manipulated one whisker for four minutes. The stimulation apparently detoured blood flow to other arteries, which fed the blood-starved area of the brain.

The technique was 100 percent effective in preventing strokes in rats with arterial obstruction.

It is impossible to say whether people can be saved by a whisker, but scientists say humans do have sensitive areas connected to the same region of the brain that is reached by a rat’s whisker.

It could be stimulating the fingers, lips and face may help.

But at the moment, however, there is no evidence that such stimulation would work.

What is certain is strokes are life-threatening emergencies in which time is of the essence. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call nine-one-one immediately. Most often, the best first aid is professional transport to a hospital.

In the meantime, scientists will look more carefully at whether precise, gentle stimulation can soften the blow of a major killer.