Did you know stem cell therapy may be able to help stroke victims? While stem cells are still being used in clinical trials, there is early evidence that stem cell therapy enhances recovery from a stroke. Here’s some expert insight into stroke treatment, including an exploration of how mesenchymal cells taken from the umbilical cord might sit at the heart of an innovative new stem cells therapy for a stroke.
What is a stroke?
When your brain is deprived of oxygen because of an interrupted blood flow, it can lead to a stroke. Strokes affect 100,000 of us every year in the UK, and at any one time the nation is home to 1.3 million stroke survivors.
- Ischemic strokes are the most common, accounting for around 87% of all strokes and involving small obstructions in blood vessels, often bits of plaque or blood clots. The interrupted blood flow makes brain cells start to die, which can mean long term brain injuries and neurological problems
- Haemorrhagic strokes, also called cerebral haemorrhages and intracranial haemorrhages, are much rarer. They happen when a blood vessel inside the skull breaks, bleeding into and around the brain. The main cause is high blood pressure, which fundamentally weakens the brain’s arteries
A stroke can happen at any age. If a stroke victim gets quick treatment there’s a much better outlook than if treatment is delayed. Until recently there was very little that could be done to save a stroke victim from the brain damage suffered through delayed treatment. Luckily recent stem cell therapy studies and clinical trials have revealed impressive results.
What are the signs of a stroke?
The signs and symptoms of a stroke, and its extent, vary depending on your state of health and lifestyle. The word ‘FAST’ is central to recognising stroke symptoms:
- Face – the face might drop on one side, leaving you unable to smile. Your mouth or eye can also droop
- Arms – you may not be able to lift both arms and keep them up because one arm is weak or has gone numb
- Speech – your speech may be slurred or difficult to understand. You might lose your speech completely, and you may struggle to make people understand what you’re saying
- Time – the three points above mean you need to dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance
You might also suffer paralysis of one side of your body, have a sudden loss of vision or blurred eyesight, feel dizzy or confused, have issues with your balance and co-ordination, problems swallowing, or an extremely painful blinding headache. You might even lose consciousness.
What causes a stroke?
Strokes happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Clots usually form in places where your arteries are narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits called plaques, a process called atherosclerosis.
While arteries tend to narrow as we age, hypertension, smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and excessive alcohol can speed the process up. It’s obviously wise to avoid the things that lead to high blood pressure in the first place, mainly obesity, excessive alcohol, smoking, stress, and a lack of exercise.
How does stem cell therapy work in the treatment of strokes?
Stem cell therapy is all about replacing damaged cells. Mesenchymal cells from umbilical cord blood can be deployed via a needle or IV to specific sites, and it looks as though these special stem cells can help stroke patients thanks to their excellent anti-inflammatory and immuno-regulatory capabilities.
Stem cell therapy is a safe stroke treatment, and it might support recovery when given early enough. In the words of Dr Leonid Groysman, associate professor of neurology at UCI School of Medicine,“The idea is that the implanted stem cells improve our own natural capacity to regrow brain cells.”
The process involves one simple surgical procedure, where the fluid is injected into the affected area of the brain.
Can stem cells help stroke victims?
Stem cells have naturally regenerative and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s their job to go in search of damaged tissues and repair them.
One study, by Stanford University School of Medicine in the USA, involved using stem cells in clinical trials to explore healing stroke victims of different ages, anywhere from 6 months to 3 years after their stroke. The stem cell therapy, using donor bone marrow, was introduced directly into the brain. Within months everyone in the study had showed signs of improved motor function.
Another study, this time by Michael Levy and colleagues and published by the University of California, revealed that intravenous injections of allogeneic mesenchymal cells are a safe and effective treatment in long term post-stroke recovery.
Can stem cell therapy cure the brain?
Taking the above into account, and looking at various other studies into the impact of stem cells from umbilical cord blood and tissue, it looks as though stem cell therapy can indeed help cure the brain after a stroke.
How many stem cell clinical trials are there?
Carry out a simple Google search on ‘how many stem cell clinical trials are there’ and you get a long list of studies by an equally long list of trusted scientific sources. We keep tabs on them all, and we roll the new insight, expertise and knowledge they provide into everything we do.
Store your umbilical cord blood stem cells for future stroke treatment
Collect and store precious cord blood and tissue when giving birth and you potentially give your child, yourself, your partner and close family the gift of potential future treatments for all sorts of awful diseases and illnesses. The research into stem cell therapy continues right around the world, and the results are often extraordinary. If you’re expecting a child, let’s talk about saving your cord blood.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
- Louis A. Cona, MD. Medical Director DVC Stem
- UCI Health
- University of Miami
- Michael Levy and Colleagues
- Stroke Association
BSc (Hons) Microbiology
Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.