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How stem cells extend the stroke treatment window
By Maureen McFadden
Mar 07, 2018

Suffering a stroke can be life-changing, leaving a person dependent on others for their care.

Now, researchers are working to regenerate damaged areas in the brain, helping patients regain their strength.

It can happen in an instant. A stroke can leave a person debilitated and dependent on others.

While some clinical trials are focusing on extending the treatment window – that is, the time patients can receive life-saving drugs – researchers are now also using stem cells to repair the damage to patients’ brains.

Julian Fowles was a busy entertainment lawyer who loved to dance.

“My wife just loves to salsa,” Fowles said.

But the music stopped when Julian had a stroke about five years ago.

“I lost use of my legs and left arm, my face fell," Fowles said.

Experts say the effects of a stroke can be reversed if the patient gets to the hospital within a 24-hour window. Julian didn’t seek help till the next day.

“Speech can be slurred or lost," said Dileep Yavagal, M.D. and director of interventional neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Eyesight can be affected

Now, there’s new hope: using stem cells.

“These are the building blocks of our bodies," Yavagal said.

Researchers at the University of Miami are conducting a clinical trial, injecting stem cells from healthy donors into the damaged areas of patients’ brains.

"That we can actually get the brain to start to heal, regenerate neurons, and for the first time produce improvement in these patient’s symptoms," said Jonathan Jagid, a doctor with the University of Miami Health System.

The minimally invasive procedure is done through a 1-inch incision in the skull.

"[It's done] with the idea that the cells will stimulate repair of the stroke area,” Yavagal said.

It could also strengthen weak limbs. Julian had the procedure last July. Because it’s a double-blind study, he doesn’t know whether he got the stem cells or not.

“I’m looking forward to some change," Fowles said.

He is feeling stronger every day, rowing as part of his rehab. He’s hoping the stem cells are helping him and, someday, others recovering from stroke.

It’s called the ACTIsSIMA trial. Patients should be between the ages of 18 and 85 and have suffered a stroke in the previous six months to seven and a half years.

There are 60 clinical sites across the country. For more information on the study, please email

REPORT: MB #4394

STROKES: A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, the brain cells in that area are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, the abilities controlled by that area such as memory or muscle control are lost. The way in which a person is affected by their stroke will depend on where in the brain it occurs and how much is damaged. For example, someone who has a small stroke may have only minor problems such as temporary weakness in one particular limb. People who suffer from larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or can even lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely, but more than two-thirds of stroke survivors will have some type of disability.

CURRENT TREATMENT: There are two different kinds of stroke, ischemic or hemorrhagic, and this will determine the best emergency treatment for the patient. To treat ischemic stroke, blood flow must be quickly restored to the brain. Emergency treatment may involve medications such as aspirin or intravenous injection of tissue plasminogen activator. Emergency procedures include medications delivered directly to the brain or mechanical clot removal. Other procedures include carotid endarterectomy or angioplasty and stents. To treat a hemorrhagic stroke, focus is on controlling the bleeding and reducing pressure in the brain. Surgery may also be performed to help reduce future risk. Emergency measures include surgical blood vessel repair; surgical clipping, coiling, surgical AVM removal, intracranial bypass, or stereotactic radiosurgery. Care and rehabilitation after emergency treatment is also essential, focusing on helping a person regain their strength and recover function as much as possible to return to independent living. A current option for treatment within the first 24 hour window after a stroke is a thrombectomy; however, only fifty percent of all stroke patients are eligible for this treatment and over fifty percent of the patients who get the procedure still remain dependent.