Stem cells raise hopes for victims of stroke

A CURE for the brain damage caused by stroke could be five years from clinical application, with research using stem cells showing significant improvement in stroke-affected brains.

Ahead of National Stroke Week, Adelaide University neurologist Simon Koblar said trials of new stem-cell technology using rats had shown marked improvement in brain function, paving the way for human trials in as little as five years.

Now, negotiations are under way with a bio-technology company interested in supporting a clinical trial with the potential to revolutionise stroke treatment.

“We’ve just completed a three-year study where we used human dental pulp stem cells in rats and we’ve demonstrated significant improvement in function of the animals compared to those that we gave the same treatment without stem cells,” Dr Koblar said.

“Right now we have a 9 per cent mortality rate, which really isn’t acceptable for human application.”

Avoiding the controversy over the use of stem cells taken from human embryos, Dr Koblar harvests stem cells from the inside of molars removed from young adults and donated by local dentists.

The stem cells are then injected into the brain of a stroke-affected rat, which has resulted in signs of significantly improved brain function in three to four weeks.

The use of dental stem cells means patients could have their own dental stem cells injected, meaning they would require no immuno-suppressive treatment.

It is still uncertain how the stem cells work when injected into a brain, but researchers believe they somehow replace the cells killed in a stroke and stimulate the brain’s ability to self-repair.

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in Australia with more than 250,000 people estimated to be living with side effects of the attack on brain functionality.

In Australia there are 60,000 strokes a year, one every 10 minutes, with an estimated financial burden to the government of $2.4 billion each year.

Although the results have been promising, Dr Koblar said there were years of tests ahead before the new treatment could be made available to humans.

He said also that the biggest barrier to developing the treatment was funding.

A foundation created by renowned stroke awareness campaigner and sufferer of locked-in syndrome Peter Couche is fundraising to support the pioneering research throughout National Stroke Week.

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