4 August 2014
A new type of stroke therapy using stem cells extracted from patients' bone marrow has shown promising results in studies at Imperial College London.
In the first trial of its kind in humans, five patients received the treatment in a pilot study conducted by doctors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and scientists at Imperial College London.
The study, published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, is the first UK human trial of a stem cell treatment for acute stroke to be published, and involves using a set of stem cells in the bone marrow that give rise to blood cells and blood vessel lining cells.
Previous research has shown that treatment using these cells can significantly improve recovery from stroke in animals as - rather than developing into brain cells themselves - they release chemicals that trigger the growth of new brain tissue and new blood vessels in the area damaged by stroke.
Patients were treated within seven days of a severe stroke, in contrast to several other stem cell trials, most of which have treated patients after six months or later.
Although the trial was mainly designed to assess the safety and tolerability of the treatment, the patients all showed improvements in their condition in clinical tests over a six-month follow-up period, with researchers believing that early treatment may improve the chances of a better recovery.
Four out of five patients had the most severe type of stroke - of which just four per cent of people who experience it are expected to be alive and independent six months later - yet, in the trial, four of these patients were alive and three were independent after six months.
Dr Soma Banerjee, lead author and Consultant in Stroke Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said the study showed that the treatment appears to be safe and that it is feasible to treat patients early when they might be more likely to benefit.
She added: "The improvements we saw in these patients are very encouraging, but it's too early to draw definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of the therapy. We need to do more tests to work out the best dose and timescale for treatment before starting larger trials."
Every year, more than 150,000 people have a stroke in England; stem cell therapy is seen as an exciting new potential avenue of treatment, but its exact role is yet to be clearly defined.
Dr Paul Bentley from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, co-lead author of the study, said it is the first trial to isolate stem cells from human bone marrow and inject them directly into the damaged brain area using keyhole techniques.
He added: "Our group are currently looking at new brain scanning techniques to monitor the effects of cells once they have been injected."
Professor Nagy Habib, principal investigator of the study, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said the data is early but "exciting" and worth pursuing.
"Scientific evidence from our lab further supports the clinical findings and our aim is to develop a drug, based on the factors secreted by stem cells, that could be stored in the hospital pharmacy so that it is administered to the patient immediately following the diagnosis of stroke in the emergency room," he elaborated.
Professor Habib said this may diminish the minimum time to therapy and therefore optimise outcome, adding that the hard work will now begin to raise funds for the research.
Posted by Philip Briggs
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