Stroke patients treated with a direct injection of stem cells to the brain saw significant improvements in motor function in a study reported this month in the journal Stroke. The study involved 18 patients who had passed the six-month mark after their stroke — the period of time after which improvements are rare and treatments typically stopped. Some of the patients were as much as three years past their stroke. Even these patients experienced restored functions.
Gary Steinberg, the study’s lead author and chair of neurosurgery at Stanford, said that 7 of the 18 patients experienced significant improvement following the treatment, which was a simple, same-day operation during which the patients were conscious. “Their recovery was not just a minimal recovery like someone who couldn’t move a thumb now being able to wiggle it. It was much more meaningful. One 71-year-old wheelchair-bound patient was walking again,” he said.
“Patients improved by several standard measures, and their improvement was not only statistically significant, but clinically meaningful,” Steinberg explained. “Their ability to move around has recovered visibly. That’s unprecedented. At six months out from a stroke, you don’t expect to see any further recovery.”
Sonia Olea Coontz, of Long Beach, California, had a stroke in 2011 and enrolled in the Stanford trial after learning about it online. “My right arm wasn’t working at all,” said Coontz. “It felt like it was almost dead. My right leg worked, but not well. I used a wheelchair a lot,” she said. “After my surgery, [my limbs] woke up.”
The treatment involved the injection of mesenchymal stem cells from two donors, harvested from bone marrow and modified to alter the cells’ ability to restore neurologic function. Steinberg said that factors secreted by the mesenchymal cells during their early postoperative presence near the stroke site stimulates lasting regeneration or reactivation
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