Stem cell therapy shows promise in repairing brain damage even hours after stroke occurs

Durham, NC – Stroke is a major health concern and is a leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. Despite significant research efforts, developing treatments that ensure complete recovery for stroke patients poses an extreme challenge, especially when more than a few hours have passed between onset of the stroke and administration of treatment.

However, a new study released today in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine indicates that endothelial precursor cells, which are found in the bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and as very rare cells in peripheral blood, could make a significant difference for these patients’ recovery — even in the later stages of stroke. In animal studies, the treatment minimized the initial brain injury and helped repair the stroke damage.

“Previous studies indicated that stem/progenitor cells derived from human umbilical cord blood (hUCB) improved functional recovery in stroke models,” noted Branislava Janic, Ph.D., a member of Henry Ford Health System’s Cellular and Molecular Imaging Laboratory in Detroit and lead author of the study. “We wanted to examine the effect of hUCB-derived AC133+ endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) on stroke development and resolution in rats.”

Dr. Janic and his team injected rats that had suffered strokes with the stem cells. When they later examined the animals using MRI, they found that the transplanted cells had selectively migrated to the injured area and that the stem cells stopped the tissue damage from spreading, instigated regeneration, and also affected the time course for stroke resolution. A significant decrease in lesion size also was observed, at a dose of 10 million cells, as early as seven days after the stroke’s onset.

“This led us to conclude that cord blood-derived EPCs can significantly contribute to developing more effective treatments that allow broader time period for intervention, minimize the initial brain injury and help repair the damage in later post-stroke phases,” Dr. Janic said.

“The early signs of stroke are often unrecognized, and many patients cannot take advantage of clot-busting treatments within the required few hours after stroke onset,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “In this animal study, a combination of stem cells shows promise for healing stroke damage when administered 24 hours after the stroke.”

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The full article, “Intravenous administration of human umbilical cord blood derived AC133+ endothelial progenitor cells in rat stroke model reduces infarct volume — magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histological findings,” can be accessed at http://www.stemcellstm.com.