As a proponent of adult stem cell injections as a way to help speed along musculoskeletal healing, I’m always excited to hear about growing research into stem cell therapy for other areas of medicine.
Consider stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for stroke victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control, stroke kills nearly 130,000 Americans every year, or about 1 person every four minutes.
Another 665,000 in the U.S. will survive but may suffer from chronic neurological issues because 2 million brain cells die every minute during a stroke. Stroke victims often live with impaired mobility, speech or vision, cognitive challenges and more. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability, costing this nation $38.6 billion in medical costs and missed work.
In that context, there’s no wonder that research into the promise of adult stem cell therapy has taken on such fiery interest, not only in the United States but around the world.
Stem cell therapy is being studied at the Sen. Lloyd and B.A. Bentsen Center for Stroke Research at the UT Health Science Center in Houston. The Bentsen Center published results of a ground-breaking Phase 1 trial in 2011 that found using adult stem cells in treatment of adults who had suffered from a stroke was safe. Last year, the scientific journal Brain published results from a Swedish university research team reporting improved mobility in stroke-injured rats after certain stem cells were implanted in their cerebral cortex.
Work with mice has been so promising in Australia that university researchers in Melbourne are preparing to conduct clinical trials on human stroke patients in Malaysia using stem cells derived from human amniotic fluid. These are essentially adult stem cells and should not be confused with the proposed use of fetal stem cells, which are somewhat controversial. Earlier this month, a hospital in Beijing announced it had treated the first human in a trial using spinal cord stem cells.
In the United States, bone marrow stem cells – like those used for musculoskeletal healing – are the focus of clinical trials for stroke treatment at three institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Stanford University School of Medicine. The stem cells being used in these trials are genetically altered.
What happens when these stem cells are administered in a stroke-injured brain? It’s much the same thing that I’ve seen when I inject adult stem cells into an injured knee, hip or shoulder. In animals, when researchers have placed the cells next to the damaged area of the brain, the cells apparently promote the body’s natural regenerative process. Essentially, the brain heals itself, improving motor function in the animal.
There have been promising results in humans, too. Early results from a very limited human trial in the United Kingdom found a handful of people suffering from paralysis started moving their fingers. A double-blind trial is under way involving University of Miami researchers and at least one stroke victim, tri-athlete and P.E. teacher James Anderson, reported having more movement and leg strength two months after being treated. He hopes to once again compete in triathlons.
It’s still very early, but research is moving quickly. Hopefully, stem cell therapy will become a proven, effective tool for improving the lives of stroke survivors. We’ll be watching the continuing progress with great interest.
Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff, a former professional tennis player on the WTA Circuit, heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.