A stem cell study, based at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, has shown some incredible results in treating paralysed and wheelchair-bound stroke patients.
A small group of 18 patients underwent ground-breaking medical procedures in which a hole was drilled into their skull, with stem cells injected into certain damaged areas of the brain. Patients in the study included people whose strokes had occurred six months to three years before the procedure, as this is often regarded by doctors as being past the point where the brain can regenerate and heal itself.
By injecting stem cells into damaged areas of the brain, the theory was that the adult brain would ‘reset’ itself back to an infant brain, and could then start to heal from the trauma of a stroke. Children’s brains often heal well after a traumatic injury or event such as a stroke, and by using stem cells from donor bone marrow, researchers were able to make adult brains heal themselves in the same way.
The results were better than anticipated. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the Chair of Neurosurgery, Professor Gary Steinberg said:
““This wasn’t just ‘they couldn’t move their thumb and now they can’. Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now. Their ability to move around has recovered visibly. That’s unprecedented.”
This simple procedure was carried out under local anaesthetic, with patients able to go home the next day. Short-term side effects were no more serious than a headache, and so far no long-term side effects have been noted. The injections were carried out two years ago, and since then none of the patients have had a relapse.
Not only does this procedure have the potential to help many stroke victims, who in the past may not have had much hope of recovery, but also those who have suffered life-changing brain injuries, and those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s. These conditions often see sufferers facing a bleak future, but stem cell therapy could offer them a ray of hope.