08 February 2009

Stem cells repair stroke patient's brain

A stroke victim has become the first in the world to have his brain damage successfully treated by stem cell therapy.

The International Neuroscience Institute (INI) in Hanover revealed yesterday that the 49-year-old man was treated with experimental stem cell therapy in Germany and has shown no side-effects following the procedure.

He was the first of 20 people to be treated in the trial aimed at showing the therapy is safe for men and women who have had severe strokes.

Prior to surgery, he was suffering from severe paralysis of the right arm and had difficulties in speech and comprehension. Following the surgery, there have been clear signs of improvement from his condition and he has since been discharged from hospital.

Peter Stratford, chief scientific officer for Biocompatibles, the company behind the treatment, said the trial was an important step forward for stroke victims.

"From a patient's perspective this is a very positive development," he said. "We hope that the patients who recover from this surgical procedure will lead as normal a life as possible following treatment and if we can maintain as much of the healthy brain as possible, this is achievable."

Researchers have long been looking for ways to repair the brain damage from strokes, which can cause permanent disability. Studies have shown that transplanting brain cells produced from human embryonic stem cells has helped fix such damage in rats' brains.

In this case, researchers used a type of adult stem cells obtained from a healthy donor which were programmed to deliver a naturally occurring protein called GLP-1, known to protect against brain cell death that follows a stroke.

The man was admitted to hospital in October and diagnosed with a haemorrhagic stroke. He then underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. At the same time, he was treated with the stem cell therapy, CellBeads.

CellBeads were transplanted within a retrievable mesh device into the brain after the clot was removed. CellBeads protect against lasting neurological damage and are taken out completely after a treatment period of 14 days.

Last month, an artificial airway created from stem cells was used to save a woman's left lung. Mother-of-two Claudia Castillo, 30, was the first person in the world to be given a whole laboratory-engineered airway.

Researchers from the UK, Italy and Spain worked together to grow tissue from Ms Castillo's own bone marrow stem cells, use them to fashion a new bronchus - a branch of the windpipe - and carry out the transplant.

The stroke patient in Germany is under the care of Professor Thomas Brinker from the INI, who said the results were "encouraging".

He said: "We see a path of recovery as good as this only in the minority of patients, so it is an encouraging start.

"It is most important that we found definitively no side-effects from the treatment."

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death among the elderly population in the developed world, with an incidence rate of 145 per 100,000.

Haemorrhagic stroke is responsible for approximately 15% to 20% of all strokes and it is the least treatable form. It is associated with the highest morbidity and mortality rate of all strokes, with only 44% of affected patients surviving the first 30 days.

If the safety trial meets its goal, Biocompatibles hopes to have a larger, international trial under way in 2010 with potential regulatory approval coming as early as 2012.

Mr Stratford said that following the continuation of the trials in Germany, he hopes surgeons in the UK will sign up to participate in experimental stem cell therapy.

Crispin Simon, chief executive of Biocompatibles, said: "We are delighted with the response of the first patient to the CellBeads treatment.

"Stem cell therapy is now advancing across a broad range of medical indications; but as with all ground breaking technology safety is key and it is encouraging that the trial appears to have made a good start in this respect."

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