Researchers, scholars and the public alike have high hopes for the medicinal uses of stem cells, but are their hopes misplaced? Not according to eighteen patients who were recently treated with stem cells after debilitating strokes robbed them of mobility. On a scale of 100 points, with 100 representing full mobility, these patients improved by an average of 11.4 points.
The New Scientist reports that one patient, a 71-year-old woman, could only move a single thumb when the trials started. By the end of the study, she was walking. This is the second trial conducted to test the results of injecting stem cells into the brains of stroke victims. The first study was also a success. Though both included only a few subjects, they were successful enough to merit the funding of much larger studies.
These successful trials are forcing scientists to rethink how they think about the brains of stroke victims. Before these studies, strokes were thought to kill brain circuits. If this were the case, however, stem cell rejuvenation techniques would not have been so successful. Scientists now believe that these circuits are simply impaired. Though we are still in the infancy of clinical trials, stem cell treatments seem to be the key to their successful rehabilitation. Scientists believe that the stem cells reprogram the brain, giving it the ability to repair like a younger, more malleable brain would.
That said, we still have a long way to go. We are already seeing discrepancies in results depending upon how and where the stem cells are administered. The optimal amount of stem cells to be administered is also uncertain. Luckily, there are now over thirty clinical trials of this nature being carried out, and many have more participants than the earlier studies. With a little luck and a lot of study, we should be able to drastically improve the successful recovery of stroke victims.