Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have proposed and demonstrated that administrating adult human-modified stem cells to the brains of patients with chronic stroke is a  safe and effective method to restore muscle and motor function. The clinical trial  was published in the journal, Stroke on 3rd June 2016.

According to previous scientific literature, cell-based therapies can potentially help improve stroke outcomes. The investigators started the trial with eighteen patients who had suffered their first stroke within previous six months or last three years.

One such patient was Sonia Olea Coontz from Long Beach, California. Miss Sonia suffered from a stroke in May 2011, almost three years before the start of the trial.

Her right arm did not function properly along with her right leg. She described her arm as ‘almost dead’ and also mentioned that due to her clear limp she used a wheelchair quite often. However, she no longer needs that wheelchair.

After her surgery, Miss Sonia said that she felt as if her limbs just ‘woke up’ and that she could experience clear movement.

Regarding the clinical trial, it was designed as a single arm study to observe the effectiveness and safety of surgical transplantation of modified bone marrow-derived mesenchyme stem cells. The researchers administered the SB623 cells to patients under light anesthesia.

All the patients remained awake throughout the surgery in which holes were drilled into the skulls of patients after securing them in fixed positions. Out of a total of 18 procedures, 12 were performed by the lead scientist himself while the others were performed at the University of Pittsburgh. The surgery had almost no post-operation surveillance period and all patients went home the next day.

The results showed significant improvements from the baseline on the following scales:

  1. European Stroke Scale with a mean increase of 6.88
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Stroke Scale with a mean decrease of 2.00
  3. Fugl-Meyer total score with a mean increase of 19.20
  4. Fugl-Meyer motor function total score with a mean increase of 11.40

No changes were seen in the modified Rankin Scale. However, the one-year marker for success titled “area of magnetic resonance T2 fluid-attenuated inversion recovery signal change in the ipsilateral cortex 1 week after implantation” was on the mark and significantly correlated with clinical improvement.

Though the treatment results are miraculous, the lead scientist Dr. Gary Steinberg, Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, cautioned that it is only a small and singular trial of this nature. The study was primarily performed to ensure the procedure’s safety however the patients improved visibly and in unprecedented natures after treatment.

In the press release, he further explained  that the best recovery you see in such patients after stem cell therapy is limited to the first six months. However the trial has shown visible improvement in the movement of patients after stem cell therapy.

Every patient suffered at least one side-effect with six of them experiencing serious side-effects. The most serious adverse effects were transient headaches. Investigators attributed theses effects to the surgical procedure and the attached physical constraints used to ensure precision of the procedure.

Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cell therapy and its administration procedure showed no side-effects or any life-endangering effects mainly due to the nature of stem cells themselves.

These stem cells are undifferentiated which means that they have no specified function in the body yet. When any cell of the body is formed it goes through different stages to mature and adopt a specific purpose. The mesenchymal cells used here are naturally-occurring cells which turn into muscle, fat, tendon, and bone tissues down the line.

These cells in previous studies have not shown to cause problems either by developing cancers or by triggering any immune reactions. The immature cells can be used to help patients with diseases where the original functioning cells have died, like in a stroke.

Stroke Symptoms: What is Stroke?

When a person experiences shortness of oxygen due to any cause, the oxygen supply to the brain becomes hampered. Consequently, brain cells deprived of the oxygen quickly start to die. Being a brain attack, stroke can happen at any time without warning signs.

How much damage is experienced directly depends on when an intervention was made during the attack. Someone with a small stroke can experience temporary weakness in their limbs but in the case of a serious attack, a person can suffer from permanent disability or paralysis of one side of their body. Nearly two-thirds of stroke survivors have some kind of disability.

In the US, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death with a person experiencing an attack every 40 seconds and dying from it every four minutes. It is also the leading cause of disability in adults in the US.