With an average of at least one person worldwide suffering from a stroke every 45 seconds, it is clear that treatment options are needed.
The risk of developing strokes increases as you grow older but currently, 10-15% of stroke cases are observed in young people.
People who have suffered from a stroke have limited options for recovery; the devastating effects of a stroke leave patients struggling with disabilities physically related to smell, taste, or frequent memory gaps, and different chronic health issues.
In fact, of the over 800,000 people in the world who experience a stroke every year, about half are left with long-term effects.
Fortunately, recent advances in stem cell research may soon offer a solution for these debilitating conditions. Stem cell therapy remains an experimental treatment for stroke, but its potential is significant.
If you or someone you love has recently experienced a stroke, this article will answer some common questions about stem cell treatments for stroke treatment.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Strokes occur due to disturbance in the flow of blood due to either blockage in the artery or leaking or bursting of a blood vessel in the brain, which causes brain strokes. Other reasons for strokes are
- Blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Smoking, etc.
Stem cells are the biological building blocks of all living tissue; they are also called regenerative cells that help the different damaged cells to regenerate into new and recovered cells.
They are unspecialized cells that can transform into a variety of specialized cells. This includes cells that are found in the brain — neurons.
While stem cells can be extracted from several parts of the body like bone marrow, blood, or umbilical cord (which parents nowadays are preserving for in-future use), they can also be created artificially. Once administered, they can transform into new neurons and repair damaged tissue.
In stem cell therapy, mesenchymal stem cells (these cells can renew and repair themselves) are systematically transferred during the treatment of the affected area and depending on how much damage has occurred. This process is called transformation and reprogramming.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work for Stroke?
Stem cell transplantation for stroke aims to repair the damage done by the stroke by replacing neurons that have been lost.
Neurons are specialized cells that communicate with each other to control all bodily functions.
They communicate using chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are essential for neurological function.
However, when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, these neurons may die from a lack of oxygen.
As a result, the victim may suffer from long-term disabilities such as paralysis, speech difficulties, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Stem cell treatment for stroke works by replacing these neurons and restoring communication between the brain and spinal cord.
Michael Levy and colleagues’ study found that injection of allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells is effective in post-stroke long-term recovery.
How does Stem Cell Therapy help with Hemorrhagic Stroke and Ischemic Stroke?
Small obstructions cause ischemic stroke in blood vessels in the body, and hemorrhagic strokes are caused when there is bleeding in the parts of the brain.
Stem cell therapy for stroke is an investigational treatment that is still in the process of being developed. This means that the treatment is still being explored, and its efficacy must be fully determined.
While researchers are optimistic about the outlook for this treatment, it is still too early to tell how effective it will be at treating stroke.
The treatment is still standardized, and the best practices are being explored and tested. This is especially true for the different stem cell types and their administration method.
Researchers are currently experimenting with three main stem cell types. Patient outcomes may vary depending on which type of stem cell is used and where it is injected.
Mesenchymal stem cells have shown significant promise in treating stroke. They are extracted from the patient’s bone marrow or can also be transmitted from the donor of a matching stem cell that can potentially differentiate into a variety of different types of cells. Mesenchymal stem cells have shown the ability to repair brain and spinal cord damage and have shown potential in treating autoimmune diseases like diabetes or multiple sclerosis.
Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are also being explored as potential treatments for stroke.
However, with ESCs and iPSCs, ethical concerns are paramount. Because ESCs and iPSCs are created from human embryos, many people are concerned with the ethical implications of using these cells in research.
What are the eligibility criteria for stem cell transplant for stroke?
Stem cell therapies are still considered experimental treatments for stroke, so there are no standard eligibility criteria. That said, most doctors will accept recently experienced stroke patients.
For Ischemic Stroke patients, doctors will likely take patients who have completed the standard treatment course.
Hemorrhagic Stroke patients, however, may have a shorter window of time before treatment because in hemorrhagic stroke; the blood starts to accumulate in the brain, which is dangerous, and there are chances that the vessels may burst and the patient’s brain might stop working.
Generally, patients must be at least 18 years old, have sufficient stem cells, and have no other contraindications.
Contraindications are conditions that make a person ineligible for a specific treatment. They may include other medical conditions that are not fully resolved, an allergy to the treatment, or a history of cancer.
Additionally, researchers must take special precautions when using these cells, as they are more susceptible to contracting viral infections.
Promising Results in Potential Stroke Patients
Stem cell therapy is a favorable treatment that may be effective at treating stroke. While some studies have shown promising results in treating stroke, they still have a long way to go.
Researchers are still exploring the best practices for administering stem cell therapy and the types of stem cells that are most effective.
As research progresses, stem cell therapy may become a standard stroke treatment.
If so, patients may have the option to participate in stem cell therapy or to receive a standard treatment. Currently, the only stem cell treatment options available are experimental.
However, patients may benefit from participating in future studies as researchers explore the most effective ways to administer stem cells.
While researchers explore the options, patients may want to consider other treatments.
Stem cell therapy is an experimental treatment that has the potential to be effective at treating the following:
- Alzheimer’s burns
- Heart disease
- And diseases related to bones are some conditions for which stem cell therapy is used.
This treatment is still being explored and standardized, and the best practices are being tested. The treatment options are limited to experimental trials and not yet available to the general public.
While patients have few treatment options available now, they may benefit from participating in future studies as researchers explore the most effective ways to administer stem cells.