Injecting modified human adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients proves not only safe, but also effective in restoring motor function. This could bring a revolution in neurological treatment.
Their study involved 18 stroke patients who had all passed the critical six-month mark after which further improvements are a rarity, since the brain circuitry affected is thought to be irreparable.
The researchers sought to challenge this conventional medical wisdom by subjecting the patients to a simple but bold treatment: an injection into the brain through a small hole drilled into the skull. The next day, they all went home.
While more than three-quarters suffered transient headaches afterwards – likely owing to the surgical procedure itself – no meaningful adverse effects attributable to the stem cells themselves, or the procedure used to administer them, were observed. In fact, at the one-, six- and 12-month marks, a formerly wheelchair-bound patient was walking again, with several others describing that their limbs had somehow awakened post-treatment. Overall, substantial improvements were seen in all of the patients’ scores on a number of widely-accepted metrics of stroke recovery, independent of their age or the condition’s severity at the beginning of the trial.
Although the research should not be oversold, since it was only a small clinical trial designed primarily to gauge the safety of such a procedure and not its effectiveness, its implications should rightly inspire optimism: it contradicts the long-held central tenet that brain damage is irreversible and that patients are confined to live in its jail cell in perpetuity.
There is the potential, even, to jump-start the brain’s damaged circuits. This is where study will continue in 2017. Indeed, the same researchers have since launched a larger, randomised double-blinded trial using the procedure.
One stroke occurs approximately every three and a half minutes in the UK, and a further array of neurological disorders produce similar losses of motor control, with its associated profound negative effects on a person’s existence. It is in this context that we wait on tenterhooks for further results
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