After someone experiences a stroke, the health effects can be devastating. Physically, they may experience stiffness, numbness and weakness in their limbs, according to the National Stroke Association. Mentally, they may have memory problems, including memory loss, aphasia and vascular dementia. Emotionally, those affected often become depressed or have pseudobulbar affect, which is uncontrollable crying or laughing.
Nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, and it’s the leading cause of death across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. But just because certain individuals survive strokes doesn’t mean their old selves also persist. They often undergo drastic changes that alter the way they live and interact with others.
Currently, there isn’t a cure, but medical studies, particularly in the field of stem cell research, are pushing the boundaries of stroke research and treatment.
Stem cell research is giving stroke survivors hope
Sonia Coontz of California had a stroke that left her right arm completely disabled and her right leg partially impaired. “I used a wheelchair a lot,” Coontz said, according to LifeSite. “After my surgery,” she continued, “they woke up.”
The new surgery was stem cell therapy, and it’s given Coontz and 18 other patients hope of living a new life.
All patients in the study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, suffered from a stroke six months before their stem cell surgery. Typically stroke victims experience the most significant recovery during the first three months with minimal improvement after six months, MedScape states.
To conduct the study, doctors drilled a hole into the skull of all 18 patients and injected bone marrow around the damaged brain tissue.
“These were patients who had significant motor deficits for six months or more,” said Steinberg, according to HealthDay. “People who had a hard time moving their arm or leg, or walking. People for whom we have no real treatment. But after the injections we saw improvement in all 18 patients, as a group, within a month. Within days some were lifting their arms over their head. Lifting their legs off their bed. Walking, when they hadn’t in months or years.”
It was a shocking discovery for researchers, but what might have surprised them even more was how the stem cells reacted after injection. These cells have the unique ability to transform into other types of body cells or stay as is. With them, doctors now have a new way to treat some of the world’s most dangerous and complex diseases. However, when treating for those maladies – LifeSite mentioned leukemia as an example – the cells don’t disappear. They continue to produce new cells. When used to treat strokes, the researcher’s stem cells shockingly disappeared after one month. Doctors believe that before they vanished, they released “factors” that caused “regeneration or reactivation” of nervous tissue.