Stem Cells Reverse Stroke

stroke-stem-cell-crazyStanford Researchers Report Amazing Stroke Reversals after Mesenchymal Stem Cell Injection to the Effected Area

If this pans out it will be a stunning breakthrough in the treatment of stroke. It also raises a world of questions regarding how it works.

A press release can be found here.

A stroke, caused by a clot or aneurysm in the brain, kills brain tissue, and leaves the victim disabled in various ways, depending on where the stroke occurs. Usually there is some recovery of function, but a rule of thumb is that there is little or no progress after six months.

Now, it’s clear from the title that something was done with stem cells, but how would one even start such an undertaking. OK, stem cells can “differentiate” and become other sorts of cells. After all, we all started out as a single (stem) cell. And further, suppose you could pre-program the stem cell in some way that it tended to become a neuron. Then what? How do you take these newborn neurons and get them to do anything useful, such as replace the function of a dead part of the brain? Cramming working electronic parts into your broken computer isn’t going to have even a slight benefit.

It almost reads like a science fiction movie

Continuing in that vein, in many sci-fi movies, some crazy suggestion is made and someone else says, ”Let’s try it, it just might work.”

So what the Stanford researchers did was this: They got some mesenchymal stem cells from a donor’s bone marrow. They doctored them a bit to increase their likelihood of becoming neurons. They then drilled little holes is their patient’s skulls and injected these cells around the areas damaged by the stroke.

That’s it. No further rewiring or tampering with the grey matter or the like. And—it worked!


Stroke victims that had lost function well beyond the six-month recovery regained, to varying degrees, some of their lost function. Beamed the obviously proud lead scientist, Dr. Gary Steinberg, “This wasn’t just, ‘They couldn’t move their thumb, and now they can.’ Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now.”

Consider the ramifications here. Stem cells got into the brain and became neurons. So far, so good. But the most amazing part of all: they somehow got themselves organized and hooked up to replace specific lost functions. How did they know what to do? Something in the brain was waiting for some new neuron material to show up and knew exactly what to do with it. As to what that something was, we are right back to sci-fi. We haven’t a clue. But astoundingly, the brain knew how to repair itself, and was simply a question of getting the right supplies.

Is there a catch?

Not really at this point.


Mesenchymal stem cells are very powerful, or, as they say, “potent.” A post here thoroughly discusses their wonders. The cells were taken from a donor’s bone marrow. There apparently wasn’t a rejection issue, but in any case, the stem cells could have been taken from the patients themselves, getting that issue off the table once and for all. You won’t reject your own stuff.

In all cases, 18 of them, the patient’s effected areas were near the surface of the skull. This avoids the need of poking holes in working brain in order to inject the stem cells to defective brain below. This might be a limitation, but it would seem that something could be cleverly worked out here.

The procedure seems to have stuck, although, after a month or so, the stem cells are gone. Presumably they have all morphed into working neurons and are going their merry way. The stroke recovery was significant within a month and continued for several months thereafter.

Again Steinberg: “The notion was that once the brain is injured, it doesn’t recover — you’re stuck with it. But if we can figure out how to jump-start these damaged brain circuits, we can change the whole effect.”

There’s nothing, other than medical industry greed, to make this procedure exorbitantly expensive.

As to side effects…

78% reported transient headaches, an expected side effect when holes are drilled into skulls. Some reported nausea. This seems to be about it. The patients were all kept overnight in the hospital and went home the next day.

Do you know any candidates?

Stanford is recruiting for a phase 2 trial. Here is the email address they give for those interested


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