Stem Cell Therapy for Stroke Recovery: A Promising New Treatment Approach

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Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability worldwide. In the United States alone, nearly 800,000 people experience a stroke each year. Many stroke survivors are left with substantial impairments that reduce their independence and quality of life. There is an urgent need for new treatments that can help stroke victims regain lost functions. An emerging therapeutic approach called stem cell therapy aims to promote recovery by harnessing the body’s own regenerative capacities. Early research suggests stem cell therapy may aid stroke recovery, even years after a stroke occurs.

Stem Cell Mechanisms for Stroke Recovery

Stem cells are special cells that can develop into other cell types in the body. They have natural healing and restorative properties that make them promising for regenerative medicine. Mesenchymal stem cells are one type of stem cell that shows particular benefits for treating stroke. These multipotent cells can be derived from bone marrow and can differentiate into various cell types including nerve cells.

Researchers think mesenchymal stem cells may improve stroke outcomes through several mechanisms. The cells home to sites of injury and inflammation where they can reduce cell death, stimulate new blood vessel growth, decrease harmful inflammation, and release growth factors that support nerve cell survival and regeneration. Mesenchymal stem cells may also directly replace damaged cells by differentiating into new neurons and other needed cell types.

Intravenous Allogeneic MSCs Clinical Trial

Most studies to date have tested autologous stem cell treatments, where stem cells are harvested from the patient’s own bone marrow. However, harvesting bone marrow cells is an invasive procedure. It also takes time to grow and expand the cells to sufficient numbers for therapy. New research is exploring the potential of using allogeneic stem cells, which come from a donor instead of the patient. Allogeneic cells could allow for “off-the-shelf” treatments that are faster and easier to administer.

A recent clinical trial tested the safety and preliminary efficacy of intravenous allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell therapy in people with chronic stroke. The study enrolled 36 participants who were on average 4 years post-stroke. All had substantial impairments, with paralysis or deficits in self-care abilities. This population represents a major unmet need, as few treatments exist to improve outcomes in the chronic stroke phase.

Participants received a single intravenous infusion of stem cells grown from a healthy donor. Three dose levels were tested, up to a maximum dose of 1.5 million cells per kilogram of body weight. This dose was calculated based on promising results from preclinical animal studies of stem cells in stroke. Participants were monitored closely for side effects and followed for 1 year after treatment.

The study found stem cell infusion to be safe with no serious side effects. The cells were well-tolerated even without the use of immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection. A few mild, temporary adverse effects like IV site irritation were observed. Serial testing revealed no safety concerns with the treatment.

Participants also showed significant gains in function over the 1-year follow-up. On measures of disability and independence, the average person improved by about 7 points at 6 months and around 11 points at 1 year after stem cell infusion. The proportion who achieved an “excellent functional outcome”, defined as being able to care for oneself independently, increased from 11% before treatment to 36% at 1 year after treatment. Improvements were also seen in neurological deficits, cognition, and mood.

Future Research Directions

This phase I/II trial demonstrated both the safety of intravenous allogeneic stem cell therapy and signals of efficacy for chronic stroke recovery. The results support moving forward into larger placebo-controlled studies to test effectiveness definitively.

If borne out, stem cell therapy could fill an important treatment gap for stroke survivors. The window for existing acute interventions like clot-dissolving drugs is just hours after stroke onset. Restorative cell therapies may help when administered weeks, months or even years later. This means many more patients could ultimately benefit. Intravenous delivery also provides a non-invasive and relatively simple approach.

More research is still needed to optimize cell dosing, timing, and patient selection to maximize treatment benefits. Combining stem cells with physical therapy or other rehabilitative treatments may further enhance outcomes. Future studies should also look at the mechanisms by which stem cells induce recovery. Possibilities include secreting growth-promoting proteins, decreasing harmful inflammation, stimulating new neuron formation, and replacing lost nerve cells through transdifferentiation.

While research on stem cell therapy for stroke continues, some clinics worldwide are already offering treatments to patients. The Stem Cell Medical Center located in Antigua offers intravenous infusion of umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells to treat chronic stroke patients.

Status of Stem Cell Therapy for Stroke

The Stem Cell Medical Center team reports seeing good outcomes in the stroke patients they have treated so far. The umbilical cord MSCs they use are believed to act through similar mechanisms as described in the research on donor MSCs. As an “off-the-shelf” allogeneic cell therapy, using cord blood MSCs can avoid the need for invasive bone marrow or tissue extraction from the patient.

Treatment begins with a consultation to determine patient eligibility. For those who qualify, the center offers a simple IV infusion protocol to deliver the cells. Patients are then monitored closely afterward. The Stem Cell Medical Center team can advise on the optimal timing to achieve the best results based on each individual’s stroke condition.

While not yet approved in some countries, stem cell therapy is legal in many countries worldwide. For stroke survivors struggling with chronic disability, the Stem Cell Medical Center offers new hope. Patients interested in learning more about their stem cell treatment options for stroke recovery can visit their website or contact the center to schedule a consultation. As research continues to demonstrate safety and efficacy, regenerative medicine is poised to transform outcomes for millions burdened by stroke’s lasting impacts.

Reference:

Levy ML, Crawford JR, Dib N, Verkh L, Tankovich N, Cramer SC. Phase I/II Study of Safety and Preliminary Efficacy of Intravenous Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Chronic Stroke. Stroke. 2019 Oct;50(10):2835-2841. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.026318. Epub 2019 Sep 9. PMID: 31495331.