Stem cell clinical trial enables stroke patients to walk again

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The stem cells of a human.

Gracie Thies, News Editor

     A small clinical trial led by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators has found that injecting modified, human, adult stem cells directly into the brain of chronic stroke patients was not only safe, but effective in restoring motor function. The patients chosen for this trial had suffered a stroke between six months and three years before having the injection.

     The procedure included drilling a hole in the patient’s skull, while conscious and under light anesthesia, and injecting SB623 cells into the skull. These cells are mesenchymal stem cells derived from the bone marrow of two donors and then modified to beneficially alter the cell’s’ ability to restore neurologic function. After the procedure, patients were sent home the following day.

     For the trial, 379 patients were screened and only 18 were selected overall. The average age was 61 and at least a full year had passed since their stroke.

     “This was just a single trial, and a small one,” said Gary Steinberg, MD and PhD professor and chair of neurosurgery, who led the 18-patient trial and conducted 12 of the procedures himself. “It was designed to primarily test the procedure’s safety. But patients improved by standard measures, and their improvement was not only statistically significant, but clinically meaningful. Their ability to move around has recovered visibly.”

     Several months after the trial, patients showed significant recovery. It was observed that 78% of the patients had temporary headaches related to the transplant procedure. Overall, there was an 11.4 point improvement in the motor-function of the Fugl-Meyer test, which gauges patients movement deficits.

     “This wasn’t just, They couldn’t move their thumb, and now they can. Patients who were in wheelchairs are walking now,” said Steinberg, who is the Bernard and Ronni Lacroute-William Randolph Hearst Professor in Neurosurgery and Neurosciences.

     Older people tend to not respond well to surgical procedures, but there were 70 year olds that were recovering substantially. The trial is now expected to expand due to the overwhelming amount success.