Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide.
In England, one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime and 30% of people who have a stroke will go on to experience another stroke.
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is severely reduced, often with severe effects on the body.
How Are Strokes Treated Now?
Getting treatment from experienced medical professionals quickly is the most important factor for treating stroke.
The sooner the blood flow can be restored, the less damage the brain will suffer and the better the chances of a good recovery. Patients who reach a hospital within the first 3-4 hours of the onset of a stroke can be given “clot-busting” medication that significantly reduces disability and improves long-term quality of life.
After a stroke, therapies are focused on helping the brain’s undamaged areas to re-learn lost skills such as walking or talking (termed neurorehabilitation). This involves a wide range of professionals, including neurologists, speech therapists, nurses and physiotherapists.
In some cases, healthy areas of the brain can learn to take over from those areas that were damaged by the stroke. Unfortunately, severely damaged parts of the brain cannot recover because the body cannot replace the lost brain cells.
This is where scientists hope that stem cells may play a role, helping us to find ways to boost the body’s repair systems.
How Can Stem Cells Help Recovery After a Stroke?
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.
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.
”Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now
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.
After the procedure, each patient was monitored through brain imaging, blood tests, and clinical evaluations.
Within a month of the procedure, the researchers noticed that the patients started to show signs of recovery, and such improvements continued over several months.
One participant who saw a significant improvement in motor function following the stem cell procedure is 36-year-old Sonia Olea Coontz, of Long Beach, CA.
After experiencing a stroke in May 2011, she lost the use of her right arm, and while she had some use of her right leg, she often required the use of a wheelchair.
Following the surgery, however, Coontz says her limbs “woke up,” and Dr Steinberg and colleagues hope the procedure could offer the same outcome for millions of other stroke survivors.
Watch her story below: