A Stanford clinical trial shows that stroke patients could store motor function and start to walk again after being injected with stem cells.
Injecting modified stem cells directly into the brains of stroke patients is a safe and highly effective treatment, new research suggests.
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Recently, Stanford researchers studied the effects of stem cell injections on people who became disabled after chronic stroke and lost their functionality and they were blown away by the results. In the initial trials, patients who suffered stroke showed remarkable improvements in overall mobility even some of the patients who are on the wheelchairs for months started walking again.
The clinical trial involved 18 patients who suffered heart attack at least six months before they received the treatment. A small hole was drilled through their skulls and stem cells were directly injected into their brains.
“These were patients who had significant motor deficits for six months or more,” said Gary Steinberg who led the single, small-scale trail. “People who had a hard time moving their arm or leg, or walking. People for whom we have no real treatment. But after the injections we saw improvement in all 18 patients, as a group, within a month. Within days some were lifting their arms over their head. Lifting their legs off their bed. Walking, when they hadn't in months or years. The results were very exciting.”
Some 800,000 people experience a stroke each year in US alone. Some regain their lost functionality but a great majority of survivors end up with longstanding disabilities. This is because almost 85% of all strokes are ischemic where clots form in a blood vessel and restrict the blood supply to the tissues, resulting in damage to the affected area.
A certain therapies could prove effective and help recover ischemic stroke patients but they need to be applied within a few hours after the stroke take place and unfortunately, it does not happen most of the times.
“The notion was that once the brain is injured, it doesn’t recover – you’re stuck with that,” said Steinberg. “But if we can figure out how to jump-start these damaged brain circuits, we can change the whole effect.”
Though trial was single and small one and was primarily designed to test the safety of the procedure. But the results turned out to be clinically significant and offer a new hope for chronic stroke survivors.
The average age of patients recruited for the trail was 61. In each case, the stroke had taken place the brain’s outermost layer or cortex and had severely affected motor function. But with stem cell injections, they showed intriguing signs of improvement and recovery.
“They couldn’t move their thumb and now they can. Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now.” Steinberg said.
Although, few suffered headaches afterward probably due to surgical procedure but no side effects associated with stem cells themselves were observed in patients.
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“There are close to 7 million chronic stroke patients in the United States,” said Steinberg. “If the treatment really works for that huge population, it has great potential.”