Friday, June 3, 2016

New Hope for Stroke Victims

We're fortunate to live in a time and place where scientific knowledge and technology seems to be snowballing. A recent article in the UK Daily Mail, if accurate, reports on an amazing advance in medical science, one that will be an enormous blessing to countless people.

Here's the gist of it:
Doctors have reversed the symptoms of stroke in a major medical breakthrough. Patients regained the ability to walk, speak and have a normal family life, thanks to a procedure requiring only local anaesthetic and a single night in hospital.

Eighteen patients underwent the procedure in an initial trial - with stunning results. Despite the long gap between stroke and treatment, all 18 patients in the pilot showed increasing improvement for the 12 months they were tracked after the operation. Nearly half showed ‘clinically meaningful’ results - which meant the procedure had a significant impact on their lifestyle.

One patient who relied on a wheelchair, unable to properly use her legs, has since taken up jogging. Another woman, who could barely get to her feet before the operation, has since walked down the aisle and is now expecting a baby with her new husband. And another, completely paralysed apart from the use of her left thumb, has regained the ability to walk.

The treatment, carried out by scientists at Stanford University in California, is thought to be so effective because it triggers the rapid regeneration of brain circuits damaged during a stroke.
One researcher was quoted as saying that:
The notion was that once the brain is injured, it doesn’t recover — you’re stuck with it. But if we can figure out how to jump-start these damaged brain circuits, we can change the whole effect. We thought those brain circuits were dead. And we’ve learned that they’re not.
The article goes on to explain that the treatment involves the implantation into the brain of stem cells and that the treatment was shown to work even three years after the stroke. Moreover, the stem cells are taken from bone marrow, not human embryos:
The new therapy uses stem cells called SB623 cells, extracted from the bone marrow of donors and then modified to make them suitable for insertion into the brain. The stem cells - ‘blank’ cells capable of acting as a repair kit for the body by replacing damaged tissue - are thought to encourage the regeneration of blood cells and blood vessels.

Bone marrow donations from two people were sufficient to provide enough stem cells for 18 patients.

Previous trials have also been controversial because they use embryonic stem cells from aborted babies – but this trial avoids those ethical issues because it uses adult stem cells available ‘off the shelf’ from a commercial provider.
This really is amazing, hopeful news. Stroke victims often suffer moderate to severe debilities of speech or movement as a result of a ruptured or blocked blood vessel in the brain. If further tests prove the treatment to be consistently effective over the long term it would be a marvelous, life-changing development for millions of people.