Stroke patients able to walk again after stem cell transplant

THE results of a small clinical trial offer hope for people left with motor impairment following a stroke, after finding that an injection of adult stem cells into the brain restored motor function for such individuals, to the extent that some patients regained the ability to walk. Lead study author Dr. Gary Steinberg, professor and chair of neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, CA, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Stroke.
While the trial only included a small number of stroke participants, the results have been met with much positivity, with some health experts claiming the findings could lead to “life-changing treatments” for stroke patients. In the United States each year, more than 795,000 people have a new or recurrent stroke. Ischemic stroke is the most common form, accounting for around 87 percent of all strokes. It occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked, primarily due to blood clots.
Hemorrhagic stroke accounts for around 13 percent of all strokes, arising from leaking or ruptured blood vessels in the brain. Exactly how stroke affects a person is dependent on what side of the brain it occurs and the amount of damage it causes. Some individuals may experience temporary arm or leg weakness, for example, while others may lose the ability to speak or walk. According to the National Stroke Association, around 2 in every 3 stroke survivors will have some form of disability, and stroke is the leading cause of disability among American adults.
There are treatments available for stroke, such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) – considered the “gold standard” treatment for ischemic stroke. It works by dissolving the blood clot that is blocking blood flow to the brain. However, tPA needs to be administered within hours of stroke occurrence, in order to maximize the likelihood of recovery – a time period that Dr. Steinberg and colleagues note is often exceeded by the time it takes for a patient to arrive at the hospital. If the treatment is not received in time, the chance of a full recovery from stroke is small. But in the new study, researchers found stem cell transplantation improved patients’ recovery when administered up to 3 years after stroke.
For their study, the team enrolled 18 individuals – of an average age of 61 – who had experienced a first stroke 6 months to 3 years previously. All participants had motor function disability as a result of their stroke; some patients were unable to move their arm, while others were unable to walk. Each patient underwent stem cell transplantation, which involved drilling a hole into the skull and injecting stroke-damaged areas of the brain with SB623 cells. SB623 cells are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that have been taken from the bone marrow of two donors and modified to boost brain function.

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