Stem cells may be key to stroke recovery

Stroke victims have only about three hours to get to a hospital and receive essential blood-clot dissolving drugs that can help with survival and offer a greater chance for recovery. Sadly, only a fraction of stroke victims seek and receive treatment within that time frame, making stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability among those who survive.

Kunlin Jin, MD, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, and his research team are replacing dead brain cells with stem cells in damaged areas of the brain of older subjects that have experienced a stroke. The team is using a technique called "tissue engineering" and "scaffolding" to inject stem cells into brain cavities affected by stroke. These stem cells release growth factors and generate new neurons that can migrate into damaged areas of the brain, helping rebuild injured tissue and stimulating brain recovery.

"Motor function has significantly improved in our research," said Jin, who received a $1 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Health to help investigate his theories.

He recently collaborated with physicians in China in a cutting-edge clinical trial involving injecting more than two million stem cells into the damaged brain region of a 55-year-old patient who had suffered from a debilitating stroke four months earlier. As a result, the patient recovered significant motor skills and was able to stand, something he was not able to do after his stroke.

"Our goal is to use a patient’s own stem cells and scaffolds for tissue engineering to promote the recovery of brain tissue after stroke," Dr. Jin said. "Or there is also the possibility of transplanting stem cells from donors to create the same effect. Our hope is that stem cells may open a new avenue for the treatment of strokes and other brain diseases."

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