Houston doctors use stem cells in new way

April 17, 2009 10:55:23 AM PDT
A man unable to talk after suffering a stroke speaks for the first time. It's an innovative stroke treatment Houston scientists are testing.You've heard a lot about stem cells, but this treatment uses cells from your own body, to heal your brain.

Virtual therapy is used for stroke patient Bud Henrich. He's partially paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak.

But the real story is his stem cell-for-stroke treatment. Henrich is the first stroke patient to receive an IV of his own stem cells to reverse brain damage.

"These cells when they go to the brain they're not becoming neurons they're probably releasing factors reducing inflammation helping to promote repair," said Dr. Sean Savits with UT Houston.

His brain may already be undergoing that repair. He read a note, and said his first word since the stroke.

"Coordination," said Henrich.

"I have to say Mr. Henrich this is the first time I've heard words come out of your mouth it's the very first time," said Dr. Savits.

"Do you believe the stem cells are helping," we asked.

He nodded yes.

Henrich wasn't nervous about getting stem cells because they were his cells so he wasn't worried.

UT Houston harvested stem cells from his bone marrow, purified and filtered them and gave them back through an IV in the arm. They believe stem cells are drawn to the injury.

"Homing signals that have been identified that have been released in the brain that help direct cells in the bone marrow to come to the brain," said Dr. Savits.

The stem cells shown as red dots, actually line up along a brain injury and release proteins and other chemicals that they believe, begin repairs.

Henrich is able to walk just 11 days after the stroke. Doctors see an improvement they don't know what percentage of that improvement is due to the stem cell therapy.

"I'm hoping he will get better and it will be because of the cells but it's just hope at this point," said Dr. Savits.

Doctors will know more as the study continues and nine more stroke patients receive the same adult stem cell treatment.

Eyewitness News also reported about a UT Houston study, where doctors use adult stem cells to help children with head trauma. As results come in from these studies, Houston researchers say there's potential for your own stem cells to treat other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's or Epilepsy.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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