Stem cells help rats recover from stroke

Stem cell research with rats may provide hope to stroke victims. In rats, stem cells repaired brain and nerve damage after a stroke, returning the animals to near normal within just a couple of weeks.

In the study published online in Stem Cell Research & Therapy, the rats were given an intravenous infusion of allogeneic, or donor, stem cells sourced from bone marrow or fat, or saline half an hour after a stroke. While the stem cells didn't seem to migrate to the damaged parts of the brain, the rats getting the stem cells did better than the untreated rats after 24 hours. By two weeks they scored nearly normal in behavioral tests. Fewer cells died in the rat brains, and they had higher levels of brain repair biomarkers such as VEGF, a growth factor.

Stem cells have been studied before as a treatment for stroke in animal models, and the results have been positive. They may act by stopping the chain reaction of damage that can follow a stroke. Mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow or fat can be taken from healthy donors and stored, and are unlikely to trigger rejection in patients. What makes this study different is that it holds out hope for using fat-derived stem cells, which are easier and less invasive to harvest than those from bone marrow.

However, it is important to remember that this is very early-stage research. As Clare Walton, a spokeswoman for the U.K.-based Stroke Association, said to BBC News, stem cells are an interesting area of stroke research, but "we are a long way off these types of treatments being used in humans and a lot more research is needed."

- read the press release
- see the paper (pdf)
- check out the article in BBC News