Stem Cells Restore Motor Function to Stroke Patients

Researchers at Stanford reported that they are “stunned” by the results of an experimental treatment to treat stroke patients. The study in which stem cells were injected directly into the brains of stroke patients, resulted in motor function being restored in some of the patients. Though designed initially to look at the safety of such a procedure as opposed to its effectives, nonetheless, it is creating significant buzz in the neuroscience community because the results appear to contradict a core belief about brain damage — that it is permanent and irreversible.
There are close to 7 million so-called chronic stroke patients in the United States who are living with the aftermath of the damage to their brains and bodies from stroke. While there are several treatments tried within hours or days of an incident in order to improve a patient's outcome, and physical therapy that can take place for a few months after that, there is very little doctors can do after that time. Which is what makes this study so incredible.
The results, published in the journal Stroke, could have implications for our understanding of a number of disorders including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and Alzheimer's if validated in larger-scale testing.
This study involved 18 patients who had passed the six-month mark when recoveries generally plateau and there are rarely further improvements. The one-time therapy involved surgeons drilling a hole into the study participants' skulls and injecting stem cells in several locations around the area damaged by the stroke. These stem cells were harvested from the bone marrow of adult donors. While the procedure sounds dramatic, it is considered relatively simple as far as brain surgery goes. The patients were conscious the whole time and went home the same day.
The volunteers were then tested at one month, six and 12 months after surgery using brain imaging and several standard scales that look at speech, vision, motor ability and other aspects of daily functioning.
Gary Steinberg, the study's lead author and chair of neurosurgery at Stanford, said in an interview "their recovery was not just a minimal recovery like someone who couldn't move a thumb now being able to wiggle it. It was much more meaningful. One 71-year-old wheelchair-bound patient was walking again," said Steinberg, who personally performed most of the surgeries.
The Stanford researchers have launched a larger randomized, double-blinded multicenter trial using the same procedure and have already begun to enroll patients. They are aiming for 156 total and say they hope to have results in as soon as two years.
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