Louis A. Cona M.D.
This post briefly explains how a stroke occurs and how stem cell therapy may benefit stroke victims.
Strokes affect nearly 795,000 people in the United States alone every year and can strike at any age. Until recently, only very little could be done to prevent brain damage as a result of the stroke if not caught early and given treatment within hours of its occurrence. However, recent studies and clinical trials with stem cells conducted on real stroke victims have shown amazing results.
A stroke occurs when the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen due to an interruption of blood flow. This is often caused by blood vessels leaking or rupturing; also called a hemorrhagic stroke. Other types of strokes, called ischemic strokes, are caused by small obstructions in the blood vessel. These can often be pieces of plaque or blood clots. Ischemic strokes account for nearly 87 percent of all stroke annually. In either case, the interruption of blood flow to the brain causes brain cells to start dying within minutes, possibly leading to lasting brain injury and neurological issues. Until now, standard treatments, such as tissue plasminogen activators (tPA), were used to dissolve the blood clot. However, these treatments were limited by time. If not administered within hours of the stroke, they are largely ineffective at preventing lasting disability.
Stem cells have a naturally regenerative and anti-inflammatory effect, seeking out damaged tissue in the body. For this reason, Stanford University School of Medicine turned to stem cells for clinical trials in healing stroke victims of different ages, anywhere from 6 months to 3 years after their stroke had occurred. The trial included 18 individuals, average age of 61, and used stem cell transplant therapy directly to the brain. The stem cells were derived from donor bone marrow. Within months, all participants showed signs of improved motor function. The patients showed an average increase in 11.4 points on the Fugl-Meyer Assessment, a stroke-specific impairment test, and the results held for years after treatment as monitored by the university. This trial made large strides in proving that stem cells could effectively treat stroke symptoms years after a patient’s stroke occurrence, and could also be effective at any age.
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