Are patients actually walking again?

Stem Cells Therapies and Stroke:
Are patients actually walking again?

Approximately 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the United States and 85 percent of those strokes are ischemic (a clot forms in a blood vessel supplying blood to part of the brain, with subsequent intensive damage to the affected area). After the event, the loss of function incurred depends on exactly where within the brain the stroke occurred, and on the magnitude.

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the leading cause of disability among American adults and approximately 2 in every 3 stroke survivors will have some form of disability.

Although approved therapies for ischemic stroke exist, current treatments are very limited, usually providing little to no benefits for chronic patients.

The “gold standard” treatment for ischemic stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA); it works by dissolving the blood clot that is blocking blood flow to the brain. However, for the treatment to be effective, it must be applied within a few hours of the event. This time period is often exceeded due to the time it takes for a patient to arrive at the hospital.

Stem cell treatments opened a new world of possibilities for patients that seemed to have no hope. Patients disabled by a stroke have demonstrated substantial recovery, even long after the event, when modified adult stem cells were injected into their brains.

A professor and chair of neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, CA, and his colleagues published the findings of a trial in the journal “Stroke”. While the trial only included a small number of stroke participants, the results were very positive. Some health experts feel the findings could lead to “life-changing treatments” for stroke patients.

At first the trial was designed to test the treatment safety, but the patients’ improvements were statistically significant and clinically meaningful. Their ability to move around recovered visibly after more than six months of the stroke. This was something never seen before!

Injecting adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients improved their scores on a 100-point scale for evaluating mobility, with 100 being completely mobile.  Patients improved on average by 11.4 points (a margin considered to be clinically meaningful for patients). They also had improvements in strength, ability to walk, coordination, the ability to use their hands, and the ability to communicate.

Last June the “New Scientist” published the story of a 71-year-old woman who could only move her left thumb at the start of the trial. “She can now walk and lift her arm above her head”, said a neurosurgeon at Stanford University.

But how does it work? Experts injected around 2.5 to 10 million stem cells, taken from the bone marrow, through a borehole in the skull into regions of the brain that control motor movements. “The cells seem to recover their ability to repair and adapt as in the brain of a baby.” said an expert.

This is very encouraging news for the field of stem cell research and especially for patients with established disability as a result of stroke, where there is no proven treatment to aid recovery.

Today there are around 30 similar trials in progress. The researchers believe that such a treatment may not be limited to stroke patients but has the potential to treat a number of brain injury-related conditions. This could revolutionize our concept of what happens after not only stroke, but also traumatic brain injury and even neurodegenerative disorders.

Despite all of the benefits, the United States is still in the clinical trial phase and stem cell therapy is not yet FDA approved. That is one of the reasons why medical tourism is quickly growing.

The Stem Cells Transplant Institute in Costa Rica is a pioneer in stem cell treatments. Costa Rica ranks high as one of the top 5 medical tourist destinations in the world, receiving close to 45,000 medical tourists each year. We aim to help you get more information about stem cell therapies available for your specific need. Don’t hesitate to contact us. There is very interesting information in this field we want to share with you.