Don't Forget Your Medical Feather
July 14, 2010 6:58 AM   Subscribe

A stroke happens when blood flow is blocked to a part of the brain. The effects can be devastating. It turns out we might be able to prevent the damage with a simple tickle of the whiskers.

The team discovered that mechanically stroking just one whisker for four minutes within the first two hours of the blockage caused the blood to quickly flow to other arteries – like cars exiting a gridlocked freeway to find detours.

But unlike freeway off-ramps, which can quickly clog, the alternate arteries expanded beyond their normal size, opening wide to allow critical blood flow to the brain. The technique was 100 percent effective in preventing strokes in rats with arterial obstruction.


And women and children need fear not, it seems any stimulation to the lips, finger, or face works.
posted by nomisxid (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
If an artery is clogged and your blood goes rushing to other arteries, isn't the part of the brain served by the clogged arteries still oxygen-starved due to lack of circulation? What am I missing?
posted by jeoc at 7:03 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> And women and children need fear not, it seems any stimulation to the lips, finger, or face works.

The article says it "could" have a similar effect. That's a hypothesis. Rats have a significant amount of neurons devoted to their whiskers--there may not be an exact correlate in humans.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:04 AM on July 14, 2010


Whoa.

This is astonishing. It seems like it should have implications for the rest of us. I mean, rewiring the vascular infrastructure of your brain is as simple as stroking your beard! This may shed light on all kinds of differences between people.
posted by General Tonic at 7:06 AM on July 14, 2010


"Kleinfeld cautions that the rodent findings might not be relevant to humans."

I'm thinking that we're jumping the gun a bit here...
posted by HuronBob at 7:08 AM on July 14, 2010


*strokes his moustache thoughtfully and twiddles with the ends while planning the new superweapon in his shiny, overlarge skull* Hrmmmmmm.
posted by adipocere at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, you guys can doubt all you want, all I know is I'm getting a medic alert bracelet with attached feather and instructions that read "in case of stroke, please tickle my nose".
posted by nomisxid at 7:11 AM on July 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Hey, you guys can doubt all you want,

Well, given that a human brain weighs about as much as four lab rats, it's probably safe to say that there are all sorts of complexities that don't scale down.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking that we're jumping the gun a bit here...

I tend to agree.

One of the reasons we study rat neurology and try to compare it to that of humans is because their structures are easier to map than ours. But findings don't always correlate. A few years ago, there was a study whose results said that when botox was injected into rat whiskers it caused brain damage. Consumer media went nuts. After all, injecting botox into a person's forehead is just like injecting it into a rat's whiskers, right?

Turns out, it isn't.

Rat whiskers are complexly interconnected with the rest of their brains in ways that the structures on a human's face are not, including their beards. Multiple studies have been done which show that the tissues in a rat's face which are connected to their whiskers contain an astonishingly high number of neurons that allow a rat to create a mental, topographical map of their environment. So, tactile sensors connected to rat whiskers have a direct line to their brains. The follicles of a person's beard, and the skin on their face are more sensitive than that of many other parts of the body. But they're no rat whiskers. :) They don't have the same complex connections.
posted by zarq at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ah, so that's why all those ancient Chinese sages had crazy huge beards. But wait, Zhang Fei also had a crazy huge beard. Hmm... *strokes non-beard*
posted by kmz at 7:21 AM on July 14, 2010


Now when I torture my wife with my stubble face I can claim I'm doing it to decrease my risk of a stroke.
posted by borkencode at 7:22 AM on July 14, 2010


I'd be interested to see if stroking the fingertips might provoke a similar response in humans experiencing a stroke, though.
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


does this explain why i stroke my beard while i think?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:24 AM on July 14, 2010


I can see where this is going. we are all going to end up with "anti-stroke curb feelers" implanted in our heads! Instead of looking like neat and elegant rats, we will look like demented lobsters. On the positive side, we will not run into door frames in the dark nearly as much....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:25 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I'd be interested to see if stroking the fingertips might provoke a similar response in humans experiencing a stroke, though.

As would I. IANAN, but I think human neurological structures are far more plastic than rats, and there isn't the same kind of vascular activity dedicated to our appendages than there would be for rat whiskers.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:29 AM on July 14, 2010


IANAN, but I think human neurological structures are far more plastic than rats, and there isn't the same kind of vascular activity dedicated to our appendages than there would be for rat whiskers.

Makes sense. You're absolutely right about our neurologic plasticity, and I believe you're also right about appendage vascularization.
posted by zarq at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2010


Thanks for posting this. Both my parents had multiple strokes & both died from complications of them. It would be nice, however far-fetched, to have an effective "antidote" to the effects of strokes. Damn straight I'll be stroking my [non] beard if I feel warning signs.
posted by yoga at 7:39 AM on July 14, 2010


> It would be nice, however far-fetched, to have an effective "antidote" to the effects of strokes. Damn straight I'll be stroking my [non] beard if I feel warning signs.

There is no antidote to a stroke; you should get to the ER as soon as possible. The FAST test is still the best way to determine if someone has had a stroke. A stroke victim may not have the presence of mind to question if they've had one, so pray/hope/arrange that you're not alone if you're at risk.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:47 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


A rat's (dog, cat, whatever) whiskers serve totally different purposes than human facial hair, so it makes sense that the sense impulses from said whiskers have different effects inside the rodent brain and may be more easily "hijacked," if you will. I had an ischemic stroke this past November, and got to the hospital in time (within half an hour of onset of symptoms) to be administered a clot-busting drug that essentially saved my cookies. But this information is utterly fascinating and I'll be tracking it in case stroke #2 comes calling anytime soon. It probably won't -- I'm on coumadin now -- but better safe than sorry...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:49 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The implication is that there may be some sort of stimulation that can help prevent brain damage from stroke:
People believed to be suffering a stroke are currently told to lie still and stay calm in a quiet environment. Frostig says a good massage, listening to a song or otherwise stimulating the right nerve endings might work better.
Of course, it is imperative to get to a stroke center ASAP, but if a massage en route can help preserve brain function, hell ya!

Sadly, I don't think this will help much for hemorrhagic stroke.
posted by Mister_A at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2010


If an artery is clogged and your blood goes rushing to other arteries, isn't the part of the brain served by the clogged arteries still oxygen-starved due to lack of circulation? What am I missing?

the circle of willis
posted by brevator at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Didn't have much time, but I wanted to throw this in here. If it's the article I'm thinking of, a fellow, or a couple of them, are linking temporary, and artificial, hypothermia to near-complete recovery after stroke. Remembered that, in theory, it may help with heart attacks as well. Seem to remember a fellow in Florida pioneered it... or maybe that was incidental to the heart attack thing.
posted by LD Feral at 8:07 AM on July 14, 2010


Honestly, I'm disappointed. I was expecting something about how kittens could help stop a stroke.
posted by COBRA! at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


there isn't the same kind of vascular activity dedicated to our appendages than there would be for rat whiskers.

I can think of one appendage with lots of nerve endings and blood supply...
posted by nomisxid at 8:20 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Videos to help you remember FAST:
Stroke Heros
Brain Attack

One of these is sorta self-linky. It was created by my employer, but didn't have anything to do with its creation.
posted by jeoc at 8:25 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I can think of one appendage with lots of nerve endings and blood supply...

Heh, getting sexually aroused is probably the last thing a stroke sufferer wants to do, if even possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:28 AM on July 14, 2010


It takes a stroke to beat a stroke.
posted by binturong at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can think of one appendage with lots of nerve endings and blood supply...

Quick, I think I'm having a stroke!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:59 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the positive side, we will not run into door frames in the dark nearly as much....

Well I'm ahead of the game then because I don't remember ever running into a door frame in the dark. Is this something you do often?

Honestly, I'm disappointed. I was expecting something about how kittens could help stop a stroke.

Yes, I was sure it had something to do with kittens and I was looking forward to seeing stories about how all ambulances are gearing up with kittens.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:59 AM on July 14, 2010




forget the kitties; they're worthless. i hit the floor around 5 am in january 2007, completely paralyzed on my left side except for a little tingling in my upper lip. it took me almost 30 minutes to crawl--actually, sort of squirm--the 17 steps to my phone so i could call someone. seriously, try crawling when one entire side of your body is dead weight. i remember looking at one of my cats who was irritated because i was squirming around instead of feeding her & saying something to the effect of, 'if you were lassie, at least you'd go alert the neighbors!' i think she ran & hid under the bed after that.

it took the emts another 10 minutes to get to my house. after some amount of time in the emergency room, my feeling returned, only to fuzz out 2 or 3 more times that morning. helpless doesn't even begin to describe that experience. i will do my damnest, though, to remember to stroke my fingers against my lip if, heaven forfend, it ever happens again. i'll happily take junk science over inaction in a situation like that.

docs seemed pretty baffled & finally--FINALLY--later that afternoon one of the residents told me i had a temporary ischemic attack (t.i.a.). i appear to be fine now, but that was a very anxious 24-hour period in my life.
posted by msconduct at 9:18 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well I'm ahead of the game then because I don't remember ever running into a door frame in the dark. Is this something you do often?

Not since I had the whiskers installed!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:25 AM on July 14, 2010


Jeez, msconduct, that was one hell of a TIA! It sounds worse than my full-blown stroke! (Of course, I was lucky also in that my wife was here when it happened.) Are you on blood thinners now? Did you have any history if heart problems? Please take care!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:28 AM on July 14, 2010


If only they had figured this out before it happened to Captain Phil. *sniff*
posted by mudpuppie at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2010


My father had an odd stroke. He barely noticed it, only my mothers hen pecking got him to the doctor 3 days after the event because he had tingling in his hand.

Turns out 6 inches of a blood vessel, "about as thick as this pencil" according to the doctor, was clotted. In most clot situations apparently they can remove the clot, this was way too much though.

He told my dad by rights he should be dead.

But other blood vessels had already compensated for the loss of blood flow from the clot. His theory was that it had happened so slowly that the the brain had time to react, perhaps months.

It seems anything is possible.
posted by Max Power at 3:10 PM on July 14, 2010


mudpuppie: "Phil"

Actually it didn't do shit for Captain Phil; he was forever rubbing his whiskers, but that couldn't undo years of hard living.
posted by bwg at 6:16 PM on July 14, 2010


I can't see why we would need a "controlled" study.....We know what's happening in non-whisker stimulation at this point.....it's happening. You gotta get the word out to start doing it....so low risk and potentially high reward.
posted by skepticallypleased at 6:50 PM on July 14, 2010


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