New Trial Suggests Stem Cells Could Heal Patients’ Brains Post-Stroke

Thanks to researchers from the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and startup ArunA Biomedical, stroke victims have a renewed sense of optimism when it comes to one day fully recovering. The new treatment, called AB126, uses stem cells to decrease brain damage and increase the brain’s natural healing tendencies. As of late-February, clinical trials have proven effective on both mice and pigs. Scientists are now looking to begin tests on humans in 2019.

The treatment will mean a second chance for hundreds of thousands of people. According to the Stroke Association, one person suffers from a stroke every two seconds and strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the UK. Before we understand the future of treatment, we must first look to understand why strokes occur.

Ischaemic strokes – which account for 85 percent of all strokes – are caused by a blockage that cuts off blood supply to the brain. Haemorrhagic strokes – which account for the other 15 percent of all strokes – are caused by blood vessels bursting within or on the surface of the brain. In either case, because the brain is affected, the whole body bears the burden. Mobility in both arms and legs is decreased, patients will likely suffer from pain and headaches, and they will also have trouble speaking, understanding, reading, writing, and controlling their bowels.

The consequences of strokes are devastating and far-reaching, impacting nearly every aspect of day-to-day life for survivors. Currently, the best treatment for these victims is tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). This FDA approved IV works by dissolving the blood clot and improving blood flow. While – yes – it has been proven to reverse side effects, it’s only effective if administered within three hours of the stroke. Doctors estimate that only 5 percent of patients are able to make that very limited window.

Unless patients are able to seek treatment within three hours of their stroke, their options are limited to rehabilitation. Recovery depends on the severity of the stroke’s complications.

With AB216, the window is still slightly limited. Researchers are currently administering the treatment no more than 6 days after the patient suffered from the stroke. Of course, this is quite a substantial increase in time from three hours as is the case with tPA.

The study, which was published in the journal Translational Stroke Research, details how extracellular vesicle fluid filled structures called exosomes are used to decrease the amount of brain tissue lost in the injury. These exosomes – which are present in eukaryotic fluids (blood, urine, etc.) – are especially useful in that they can carry multiple doses of treatment and are small enough that they’re able to cross barriers that other cells can’t.

When tested on mice, MRI scans showed close to 35% decrease in size of injury and a 50% decrease reduction in brain tissue loss. This is the first time such results have been seen in exosome stroke treatment studies.

ArunA is already producing AB126 exosomes to meet post-trial demands, with an eye to maintain consistency while still keeping the cost of production low. As apart of their trials, researchers intend to test the effects of the new treatment on traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries as well as epilepsy.

This exciting development is the third in a series that started in 2014 in London. There, researchers from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London, used stem cells from bone marrow in the rapid treatment of strokes. It was the first of its kind published in the UK and the results were encouraging. A particular set of CD34+ stem cells – known to help with the production of blood cells and blood vessels – was used. Four out of five patients were able to live independently six months after suffering a severe stroke that historically leaves only four percent of victims alive.

In 2016, scientists at Stanford University used mesenchymal stem cells, which can mature into multiple types of specialized cells, to restore brain function. The trial involved 18 stroke victims and after depositing the stems cells directly into their brains, one woman made a near full recovery as she regained the function in her legs and learned how to walk again.

Given the progress that has been made over the last several years, stroke victims have a lot to look forward to in 2019 when human trials begin for AB126.

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Sheep-Human Hydbrids Pave the Way for Organ Transplants

In late-February, scientists and researchers from Stanford University in California announced that they have successfully grown sheep embryos containing human cells. The announcement came during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement in Austin, Texas and while animal rights activists have raised concerns, the ground-breaking research means that soon, supply for organ transplants might finally meet demand.

The process is called interspecies blastocyst complementation. The approach requires genetically disabling the development of a specific organ in a host embryo and introducing human cells with chimera (animal-human hybrid) formation potential.

Through the research, scientists at Stanford have found that human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) can integrate and differentiate in livestock species. The takeaway: soon, transplantable human tissues and organs could potentially be grown in engineered animals. But scientists are quick to say that there isn’t a concrete timeline.

‘It could take five years or it could take 10 years but I think eventually we will be able to do this.’ project lead Dr Hiro Nakuachi, a professor of genetics at Stanford, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

These findings only represent the beginning of a long road towards meeting this goal. By cell count, only about one in 10,000 cells (or less) in the sheep embryos are human. While it is still 99 percent sheep (and one percent human like you and me), it’s still worth celebrating the successful introduction of human cells.

This isn’t the first experiment of its kind. Back in 2016, researchers from the University of California, Davis successfully combined hPSCs cells with pig DNA inside a pig embryo. Over the course of the 28-day study, the human stem cells showed signs of rooting and growing into a transplantable human pancreas.

Likewise, in 2017, another Stanford team proved that a rat-grown pancreas could successfully be transplanted into a mouse with diabetes. The recipients of the pancreas only needed days of immunosuppressive therapy as opposed to life-long treatment to prevent rejection of the organ and the mice were actually cured of their diabetes.

What’s more, less than two years ago, the US government said it would approve funding on animal-hybrid experiments for the sake of organ transplantation, only to later retract their statement because of complaints from animal rights groups.

While it’s easy to understand arguments from such groups, it’s also important to understand why there is so much interest in chimeras for the sake of organ transplants. It’s possible for organs to grow to adult size within just nine months in these surrogate animals, meaning scientists could have found a much-needed solution for terminally ill patients in need of organs.

“We need to explore all possible alternatives to provide organs to ailing people.” said a member of the team and reproductive biologist Pablo Ross from the University of California, Davis.

In the US, someone is added to the organ donor list once every 10 minutes. There are currently around 76,000 people in the US and 6,500 in the UK on organ transplant lists. 32 people are dying everyday waiting for a transplant. With tens of thousands of people around the world in desperate need, it’s crucial that scientists get the funding they need to find solutions that will save them.

Stem Cell Therapy Becoming More Effective Treatment for Meningitis

Meningitis – a very serious disease if not treated quickly – affects upwards of one million people around the world every year according to the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations. What’s more, it’s difficult to diagnose and it most commonly affects babies, toddlers, children and teenagers.  Current treatments don’t guarantee recovery and the repercussions are life-altering, including late-onset learning difficulties, hearing loss, and general developmental delays. While scientists around the world are working tirelessly to develop and test bone marrow transplants for widespread, life-threatening diseases like cancer, scientists in Germany have been leading the way in allogeneic stem cell transplantation to treat meningitis.

Meningitis can be viral, bacterial or fungal. Bacterial is the most severe. Unfortunately, because it’s so difficult to recognize in its early stages, many children and adults are diagnosed too late and face brain damage and even death. Because common symptoms of meningitis (fever, stiff neck, drowsiness, nausea) resemble common symptoms of dozens of other, less harmful diseases, they might not be taken seriously.

In children, the symptoms are even more difficult to recognize as all signs point to a generally fussy baby rather than a sick one. New mother’s likely won’t rush to hospital because their child is especially irritable, tired, or crying, but all three are known symptoms, specifically in toddlers.

Most often, meningitis is treated one of three ways. In each case, though, doctors will usually start with broad-spectrum antibiotics. They’ll likely even prescribe the antibiotics before the test results come back as a preemptive measure. Patients can also be given a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) as quick and definitive (albeit invasive) alternative to blood tests and x-rays. In a lumbar puncture, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is collected and in patients with meningitis, the CSF will show low blood sugar, increased white blood cells, and increased levels of protein.

Patients who are confirmed to have meningitis and who aren’t stabilized with the initial course of antibiotics are often hospitalized and treated with injected antibiotics. But even that isn’t enough often times. In the US alone, 10-15 percent of those diagnosed with meningitis won’t survive and of those that do survive, 10 percent will have lingering symptoms like seizures and stroke.

Doctors in Germany were the first to use allogeneic stem cell transplantation. At a children’s hospital in Halles, Germany, a 19-year old was successfully treated, the infection was controlled, and nearly a full neurological recovery was made. It’s since been dubbed the future of meningitis treatment. In allogeneic stem cell transplantation, stem cells are collected from a matching donor, transplanted into the ailing patient, and the stem cells go to work suppressing the disease and restoring the patient’s immune system. This process is different from autologous stem cell transplants which use the stem cells from the patient’s own body. Allogenic stem cells transplants are used around the world to treat cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma, leukemia as well as other diseases of the bone marrow or immune system.

After the success of the 19-year old in Germany, doctors in Germany are keen to help foreign patients. German Medicine Net, created back in 2001 as an answer to the UK’s waiting list problem, co-operates with renowned institutions for stem cell therapy. Meningitis is regarded as a condition that can be considered for treatment. As research and clinical trials continue, the future of medicine – especially in treating meningitis – truly lies in stem cells.