A new study conducted to determine the safety of injecting stem cells directly into the brains of stroke patients has produced results that are shocking the neuroscience industry. The study, once further tested, has the potential to disprove a previously held belief about how the brains work—mainly that brain damage is irreversible.
The study involved 18 patients who had crossed the six month critical threshold where recovery from a brain injury generally plateaus and damage is considered permanent. At this point therapy is typically stopped because it is believed the brain circuits are dead and unable to be repaired. Each participant in the study had suffered a stroke beneath the brain’s outermost layer and had significant physical impairments.
The one-time therapy involves surgeons drilling a hole in the participant’s skull and injecting stem cells into the damaged areas of the brain. While the procedure may sound dramatic, it is relatively simple as far as brain surgery goes, and the participants were sent home the same day.
Seven of the 18 patients experienced significant improvements in their abilities following the treatment. The recovery experienced by the patients was not minimal, such as being able to move a finger or respond to stimuli. One wheel-chair bound patient is now walking again and another patient who had such problems walking and speaking that she was too self-conscious about her gait to walk down the aisle, is now married and expecting a child.
What exactly is triggered by the treatment is not yet fully understood. Stanford University is launching a larger study that is aiming to enroll 150 patients. If the findings from this study are as conclusive as the first, there might be new hope for sufferers of brain injuries. Being able to understand how the brain works and the mechanisms that can be used to repair previously damaged cells can provide better treatment options for millions of sufferers of traumatic brain injuries and strokes.
While there is still a long list of questions to answer regarding brain injury treatment, studies like this show that the future is brighter than we might have thought and that injuries to the brain may not be as permanent as we previously imagined.