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Stanford trial finds stem cells injected into brains of chronic stroke sufferers revived dead brain circuits and restored ability to walk.

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The trial was a small study that was designed primarily as a safety and feasibility study to see if transplanting these cells into the brain around a stroke was a safe technique.

The first finding was that the technique is safe and easy to do, it is feasible, and there are no serious adverse effects that would be prohibitive – the cells were well-tolerated.

The surprising finding was that patients who had chronic stroke, meaning they were six months to three years out from their stroke, recovered after the cell transplant. Normally, patients recover from their stroke in six months, and after six months there is little improvement. However, in our study the patients as a group improved within one month of the cells being administered and continued to improve at three months. This improvement was sustained at 12 months and it appears the improvement is even being sustained up to two years in the patients we are continuing to follow. This was a big surprise. We thought that after you have a stroke, you make some initial recovery, but after that the circuits are dead – or irreversibly damaged. What is remarkable about this study is that we learned that these circuits are not dead, so they could be resurrected. This changes our whole notion of what happens after a stroke and what happens after any kind of injury to the brain and spinal cord.

Not only did these people recover statistically on many different stroke scales, but their recovery was meaningful. Patients who couldn’t walk were walking, patients who couldn’t use their arm could use their arm. Some people who had problems communicating were talking. These are clinically meaningful recovery signs.

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