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Stem cell stroke therapy shows promise after first human trial

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August 8, 2014

London researchers have revealed that stroke patients in a pilot study all showed improvem...

London researchers have revealed that stroke patients in a pilot study all showed improvements after stem cell therapy (Photo: Shutterstock)

A pilot study undertaken by researchers from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London has shown promise in rapid treatment of serious strokes. The study, the first of its kind published in the UK, treated patients using stem cells from bone marrow.

Imagine a perfectly ordinary beginning to your day, say burned toast, no matching pair of socks and the usual damp commute to work. Except at some point through the usual minutiae you suffer a massive stroke. If you don’t die outright, you may soon afterwards. Even supposing you survive those first days or weeks, the chance of your life resuming its comforting tedium is impossibly remote. You may need assistance for the rest of your shortened life.

According to the Stroke Association, about 152,000 people suffer a stroke in the UK alone each year. However, the five patients treated in the recent Imperial College pilot study all showed improvements. According to doctors, four of those had suffered the most severe kind of stroke, which leaves only four percent of people alive or able to live independently six months after the event. All four of the patients were alive after six months.

A particular set of CD34+ stem cells was used, as they help with the production of blood cells and blood vessels’ lining cells. These same cells have been found to improve the effects of stroke in animals, and they assist in brain tissue and blood growth in the affected areas of the brain. The CD34+ cells were isolated from samples taken from patients’ bone marrow and then infused into the affected area via an artery that leads to the brain, using keyhole surgery.

The innovative stem cell treatment differs from others in one important way: patients are treated within seven days of their stroke, rather than six months hence. The stroke sufferers all recorded improvements in terms of clinical measures of disability, despite four of the five having suffered the most severe kind of stroke.

It's still early days for the research, and much more will need to be done to expand clinical trials, but eventually it is hoped that a drug may be developed that can be administered to stroke sufferers as soon as they are admitted to hospital. This could ameliorate longer term effects and allow for speedier recovery and a faster entry into therapy.

A paper detailing the research was published in journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Source: Imperial College London

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