When a person suffers from a stroke, blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die within minutes due to lack of oxygen. In some cases, this can result in paralysis, speech and language problems, vision problems, and memory loss, depending on the location of the blockage of blood flow and how much tissue is involved.
A stroke on one side of the brain will result in neurological effects on the opposite of the body. For instance, a stroke on the right side of the brain could lead to paralysis on the left side of the body, and vice versa. A stroke in the brain stem can affect both sides of the body and could leave the patient in a so-called locked-in state, where the patient is unable to speak or move the body below the neck.
Now a new study by researchers from the University of Southern California show that stem cell therapy increases nerve cell production in mice with brain damage due to stroke.
The researchers say their therapy is a combination of two methods. One involves surgically grafting human neural stem cells onto the damaged area, where they are able to mature into neurons and other brain cells. The other therapy uses a compound called 3K3A-APC, which has been shown to help neural stem cells that have been grown in a petri dish grow into neurons.
The team used mice for their experiment, and they found that a month after inducing stroke-like brain damage in the mice, by disrupting blood flow to a specific brain area, those that had received both the stem cells and 3K3A-APC performed much better on motor and sensory function tests, compared with mice that received only one of the treatments or neither.
The researchers also observed that the mice given 3K3A-APC had more stem cells survive and mature into neurons. Moreover, mice given the stem cells and 3K3A-APC had more neuronal connections - synapses - that linked those areas, compared with the mice given the placebo.
Researchers now want to pursue another clinical trial to examine whether the treatment combination can encourage the growth of new neurons in human stroke patients to improve function. They say that if that trial is successful, it could be possible to test the therapy's effects on other conditions, including spinal cord injuries.