A new study published in the journal Stroke has treated patients by injecting their brains with stem cells. The procedure involves drilling a small hole in the patient’s head. The side effects were minimal including temporary headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
Dr. Gary Steinberg, the study’s lead author and chair of neurosurgery at Stanford, told the Washington Post to be careful in inflating such a small study to something bigger than it is. The study included only 18 patients. However, despite the size of the study, the results were promising.
His team was “stunned” at the positive impact the treatment had in seven of the 18 patients. “Their recovery was not just a minimal recovery like someone who couldn’t move a thumb now being able to wiggle it. It was much more meaningful. One 71-year-old wheelchair-bound patient was walking again,” Steinberg, who personally performed most of the surgeries, told the Washington Post.
The stem cells seem to trigger a biochemical process that allows the brain to repair itself. “A theory is that they turn the adult brain into the neonatal brain that recovers well,” he told the Washington Post.
This study could potentially help 7 million people living with the after-effects of stroke in this country. The Stanford researchers launched a larger study with 156 subjects. They hope to have results in the next two years. The first study was mainly to study the safety of the procedure, but the results are creating a buzz in the neuroscience community.
What is needed is to understand why. Are the stem cells stimulating neuroplasticity? Would this help other types of neurological disorders and brain damage as well? Is it something specific to stroke?
Stem cells are not magic. We need to figure out why this is helping, if further duplication of this study makes it persuasive that it is.