A new study involving stem cells at Stanford has given non-ambulatory stroke patients a new lease on life by injecting stem cells directly into a non-ambulatory stroke victim’s brain. As a result, the stroke survivors showed significant improvements.
The Stanford neurosurgeon who performed 12 of the 18 stem cell procedures as part of the study, Dr. Gary Steinberg, commented on his own amazement at the success of the study.
“This wasn’t just, ‘They couldn’t move their thumb, and now they can.’ Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now.”
However, seeing such incredible progress as a result of the stem cells may be exaggerated – not so much in the success of the sample subjects, but in the sample size itself. Such a small control group of 89 subjects could mean that the results were the product of something like a fluke or a placebo effect. What’s more, the stem cell injections didn’t mean life changing effects on all of the stroke victims.
The study at Stanford wasn’t actually intended to make wheelchair-bound individuals independently mobile again by injecting their brains with stem cells. The primary purpose of the study was primarily conducted to determine whether the injection of stem cells directly into the brain would cause any untoward side effects. However, whereas the condition of some of the non-ambulatory stroke victims bore no benefits from the injection of stem cells, there was a clear benefit to many others. Some of the stroke victims gained a minimal movement in their fingers or toes, and some were actually able to stand and walk again.
As to the stem cell test subjects, each of them had suffered a stroke at least five years before the study. This meant that each of the stroke survivors had reached what doctors perceive as the limit of how much rehabilitation or physical therapy can help them. The purpose of the stem cell study – in addition to the search for adverse side effects – was to see if stem cell injections might have some effect in helping to rebuild damaged parts of the brain. When someone has a stroke, blood flow is blocked to the brain, cutting off its oxygen and leaving parts of it highly damaged. As a result, stroke victims may have issues with speech, and physical limitations utilizing their arms and legs.
The stem cells that were used in the study were donated. They were injected into the stroke victims’ brains and targeted near the area of the brain thought to be damaged by the stroke the survivors had endured. Doctors said that as a part of the procedure, side effects included nausea, depression, and headaches. However, no further severe side effects were discovered in the initial trial. Based on stem cell injection studies in rats, stem cells are only thought to survive for about a month once they are injected into an organism. As a result of this study, though, doctors say that some of the stroke survivors that were injected with the stem cells are still improving even as much as a year after the injection.
Currently, all treatments for stroke survivors need to be utilized in the first few hours after the stroke has occurred. Clearly, that is the reason why researchers are striving so hard to figure out new ways of healing damaged parts of the brain brought on by strokes. If the stem cell injection procedure can be better understood, it may lead to new treatments that can assist stroke survivors in making full recoveries regardless of when they experienced their stroke.
The Stanford study on stem cell injections in stroke survivors in published in the journal, Stroke.
[Feature photo by John Moore/Getty Images]