Researchers ‘blown away’ by stroke treatment using stem cells

3 Jun 2016

A team from the Stanford University School of Medicine has seemingly achieved a major breakthrough in the recovery process for stroke victims using stem cells.

Recovery from stroke is a long and arduous process for the patient as the brain gradually repairs itself after such a huge trauma.

But, now, a preliminary study into the effects of stem cells inserted into the brain to help speed up the recovery has provided results that have even surprised the researchers.

While admitting this is not conclusive confirmation of it being effective, given that only 18 stroke patients were treated with stem cell injections, Dr Gary Steinberg of the Stanford University School of Medicine has said be was “blown away” by the results.

With the team’s findings published in the journal Stroke, it was revealed that people with severe motor impairment following a stroke, who had experienced a stroke at least one year prior to treatment, were selected.

Rapid recovery within one month

The medical team working with the experimental stem cells began by drilling a small hole through the skull and then injecting the modified stem cells directly into multiple areas of the brain near the site where each patient’s stroke had affected.

Incredibly, all of the 18 patients who underwent the procedure experienced significant motor control recovery within the first month, while younger patients fared even better.

After three months, mobility was found to have improved again while gains were maintained at both the six month and one-year follow-up.

As for what’s causing such a rapid recovery, Dr Steinberg is, frankly, a little perplexed.

Not sure what’s happening

“We’re still not exactly sure what’s happening,” he said, adding that “it’s probably not that the stem cells are becoming neurons and reconstituting circuits. That’s not what appears to be going on.”

What could be the case, he argues, is that these adapted stem cells are rejuvenating the damaged parts of the brain into one akin to an infant brain, which is much more capable of recovering from major events like a stroke.

“The results do sound amazing,” said Dr Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “But keeping in mind that everyone has long been looking for a miracle cure for stroke, it’s really premature to draw conclusions. This is one very small study that was really set up to establish safety. More work will be needed.”

Its biggest test will now be put it under greater scientific scrutiny with a larger study with plans underway to test this treatment on 156 chronic stroke patients.

Brain scans image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic