Stem cell 'miracle' lifts hope on stroke

STEM cells may have "almost miraculous powers" to treat a host of debilitating conditions, including stroke, according to Melbourne researchers.
Based on previous work with animals, scientists from the Monash University School of Biomedical Sciences are preparing to conduct clinical trials in Malaysia, testing the ability of stem cells derived from human amniotic fluid to treat stroke.
Lead researcher Chris Sobey said the cells, which are taken from the lining of the amniotic sac when a baby is born, are essentially adult cells, and therefore free from the ethical constraints of embryo-derived stem cells.
Associate Professor Sobey said that although the work was in its early stages and as yet unpublished, he and colleague Grant Drummond, also an associate professor, believed there was great therapeutic potential. "In some of our mice, we've seen a more or less full recovery from stroke in the space of about two weeks," he said.
"It's hard to tell how that will play out in humans, but we're hoping for dramatic results."
Professor Sobey said the stem cells would not induce an immune rejection when transplanted, because one of their normal functions was to keep the mother's immune system from attacking and rejecting fetal tissue.
The cells are easily collected at birth and can be frozen, providing a ready source for stem cell transplants.
Professor Sobey said the cells also had the capacity to be injected intravenously and "home" to any damaged area of the body.
More than 60,000 Australians are affected by stroke every year, and there is only one type of drug approved to treat the condition: a clot-buster called tissue plasminogen activator, which must be administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms to be effective in preventing damage to the brain.
"Typically it's many hours before a person really knows they've had a stroke, gets to hospital, and is properly diagnosed," Professor Sobey said.
"By that time there's nothing to treat or minimise the injury, let alone promote repair.
"What these cells do is to act like mobile pharmacies, finding ways to where the damage is, and potentially releasing several important factors to treat it."
Professor Sobey said experimentation on mice had found the benefits of intravenous injection of amniotic stem cells to be threefold, in preventing initial brain damage after a stroke, reversing damage in the following days, and overriding the body's immune suppression triggered by a stroke.
The treatment is to be tested in clinical trials in Malaysia late next year.

Source: The Australian News