Stem cells could repair stroke damage

Early trials show remarkable promise but more research is needed


Researchers at Stanford University in the US have been “blown away” by the early results of a clinical trial to observe the action of modified stem cells on the damaged motor functions of stroke victims.

Though cautious about ‘over selling’ the results so far the team has barely been able to contain its excitement at what has been observed.

Typically stroke victims can be expected to experience 90% of whatever recovery of impaired function that they are going to make within the first six months of their treatment. After that progress is more difficult and expectations of further recovery are very limited.

Accepted wisdom would have it that beyond this point any major function would have been lost forever because the entire brain ‘circuitry’ controlling it is damaged beyond repair.

In this trial, 18 patients with severe motor deficits, including being unable to walk, were treated with genetically modified stem cells injected directly into the affected part of the brain.

The majority had suffered their strokes more than a year earlier

The procedures were carried out at minimal risk to the patients, using low levels of anaesthetic, by making a small drill hole in the skull and injecting the cells into various regions of the brain around the site of the stroke.

All 18 patients experienced measurable improvements within days of the treatment.

The researchers report that some of the patients were able to lift their arms above head height and lift their legs from the bed for the first time since their stroke. Some were even able to walk for the first time.

Observers were quick to point out that this is only one very small study but agreed that it pointed to a potentially exciting development in the treatment of stroke victims.

A second trial of 156 chronic stroke patients is now being planned.

There are an estimated 152,000 strokes a year in the UK alone with over 1.2 million stroke survivors currently dealing with the aftermath, many with severe impairments.

We should watch the results of this line of research with interest.




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