Study examines how stem cells help stroke patients

August 29, 2011 7:52:48 AM PDT
The use of adult stem cells in medicine has gained national attention, partly because of Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign. The governor made headlines this month after announcing he'd undergone a stem cell treatment during back surgery. He called the surgical procedure innovative. Others call it a big risk.

Using stem cells for anything other than a bone marrow transplant is considered experimental. But doctors are looking at a growing number of ways they can use adult stems cells, including how they can be used to help stroke victims even weeks after they've had the attack.

"Suddenly I couldn't talk at all," one stroke victim told us.

She had a stroke just as she was leaving Los Angeles.

"Two hours later, I would have been on an airplane. That would not have been good," she said.

We can't tell you her name because of the high-profile stem cell study in which she is a patient. But three days after she left the hospital and returned to Houston, she received a novel stroke treatment -- her own stem cells.

"When I had the stroke, I was interested in what could be done for stroke with stem cells," the stroke victim said.

UT Health Scientist Dr. Sean Savitz is conducting the study. The stem cells taken from a patient's bone marrow are injected into the carotid artery and then seem to jumpstart healing.

"Stimulate things like new blood vessel formation, the formation of new brain cells, perhaps a reduction in the inflammation that's occurring after a stroke," Dr. Savitz said.

In a previous study, stem cells had to be given within three days. This study pushes it to 19 days. The current stroke treatment, clot busters, drugs have to be given in three hours!

"My voice has come back, I couldn't talk at all and I still sometimes can't get words out but I'm getting much, much better," the stroke victim said.

The 67-year-old cosmetics developer is back at work, two months after getting stem cells after her stroke.

"She's independent when she's functioning during the day and that's what we're really happy about, the rehabilitation when somebody's able to go back to their life," Dr. Savitz said.

"To be part of this is wonderful for myself and for hopefully other people I could help behind me," the patient said.

The stem cell-stroke study is taking new patients. If you have a loved one who is within 19 days of a stroke, visit the UTHealth website for information.

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