Stanford researchers studying the effect of stem cells injected directly into the brains of stroke patients said Thursday that they were “stunned” by the extent to which the experimental treatment restored motor function in some of the patients. While the research involved only 18 patients and was designed primarily to look at the safety of such a procedure and not its effectiveness, it is creating significant buzz in the neuroscience community because the results appear to contradict a core belief about brain damage — that it is permanent and irreversible.
The results, published in the journal Stroke, could have implications for our understanding of an array of disorders including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and Alzheimer’s if confirmed in larger-scale testing.
The work involved patients who had passed the critical six-month mark when recoveries generally plateau and there are rarely further improvements. This is the point at which therapies are typically stopped as brain circuits are thought to be dead and unable to be repaired. Each participant in the study had suffered a stroke beneath the brain’s outermost layer and had significant impairments in moving their arms and-or legs. Some participants in the study had had a stroke as long as three to five years before the experimental treatment.