Injecting modified, human, adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients proved not only safe but effective in restoring motor function, according to the findings of a small clinical trial led by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators.
The patients, all of whom had suffered their first and only stroke between six months and three years before receiving the injections, remained conscious under light anesthesia throughout the procedure, which involved drilling a small hole through their skulls. The next day they all went home.
Although more than three-quarters of them suffered from transient headaches afterward — probably due to the surgical procedure and the physical constraints employed to ensure its precision — there were no side effects attributable to the stem cells themselves, and no life-threatening adverse effects linked to the procedure used to administer them, according to a paper, published online June 2 in Stroke, that details the trial’s results.
“My right arm wasn’t working at all,” said Coontz. “It felt like it was almost dead. My right leg worked, but not well.” She walked with a noticeable limp. “I used a wheelchair a lot.”
Not anymore, though.
“After my surgery, they woke up,” she said of her limbs.
Sonia Olea Coontz had a stroke in 2011 that affected the movement of her right arm and leg. After modified stem cells were injected into her brain as part of a clinical trial, she says her limbs “woke up.”
‘Clinically meaningful’ results
“This was just a single trial, and a small one,” cautioned Steinberg, who led the 18-patient trial and conducted 12 of the procedures himself. (The rest were performed at the University of Pittsburgh.) “It was designed primarily to test the procedure’s safety. But patients improved by several standard measures, and their improvement was not only statistically significant, but clinically meaningful. Their ability to move around has recovered visibly. That’s unprecedented. At six months out from a stroke, you don’t expect to see any further recovery.”
Some 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the United States alone. About 85 percent of all strokes are ischemic: They occur when a clot forms in a blood vessel supplying blood to part of the brain, with subsequent intensive damage to the affected area. The specific loss of function incurred depends on exactly where within the brain the stroke occurs, and on its magnitude.
Although approved therapies for ischemic stroke exist, to be effective they must be applied within a few hours of the event — a time frame that often is exceeded by the amount of time it takes for a stroke patient to arrive at a treatment center.
“There are close to 7 million chronic stroke patients in the United States,” Steinberg said. “If this treatment really works for that huge population, it has great potential.”
There was an overall 11.4-point improvement on the motor-function component of the Fugl-Meyer test, which specifically gauges patients’ movement deficits.
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 SB623 cells were provided by SanBio Inc., a biotechnology company based in Mountain View, California.
SOURCE – Stanford