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Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK
Stem cells 'improve stroke recovery'
The tests were carried out on rats
The tests were carried out on rats
The potential of stem cells to repair the damage caused by strokes has been reinforced by experiments in rats.

The advance has been made by a team of researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and Guildford-based ReNeuron Ltd.

Tests carried out on rats suggested stem cell transplants could help stroke victims regain movement, senses and understanding.

Stem cells are the body's "master cells" and can develop into a wide variety of different cell types.

If doctors could control which cells they become, they could produce replacement tissues for damaged cells, such as brain cells destroyed by a stroke.

The brain always tries to repair itself after a stroke, but the stem cells could produce a higher level of recovery.


This gives us greater potential flexibility in transplant surgery

Dr Helen Hodges,
Institute of Psychiatry
The researchers found that cells move to whichever area needs repairing, wherever they are implanted in the brain.

After the transplant, the stem cells, taken from mice, dispersed to the necessary areas of the brain, unlike foetal cell grafts, which remain in one place.

The researchers say the stem cell transplants are likely to be more effective than the foetal brain tissue grafts which scientists have used in experimental Parkinson's Disease treatments.

It was shown that if stem cells were implanted into the damaged or intact part of the brain, movement improved, and when they were implanted in the ventricles, or cavities of the brain, the rat's cognitive abilities improved.

The stem cell transplant also appears to increase the production of a key protein in the brain called ApoE.

The amount of the protein in the brain is already known to increase after a stroke.

But the tests on rats showed the stem cell graft increased the amount of ApoE even more.

ApoE is important because it helps the brain repair itself, and form new links between the damaged and undamaged parts of the brain, say researchers.

Improvements

Dr Helen Hodges, who led the research, said: "We found that movement, senses, and cognition improved when the cells were implanted in different regions of the brain close to or distant from the stroke damage.

"We expect that stem cells will prove far safer and more flexible for repair of brain damage than primary foetal cells," she said.

"They are not likely to worsen symptoms, as recently reported in elderly Parkinson patients."

She said the findings of the tests advanced neuroscience.

"This gives us greater potential flexibility in transplant surgery to implant stem cells away from the damaged areas, knowing they will migrate to an area where they can be most effective," she added.

A Stroke Association spokesman said: "This study is still in the very early stages at the moment, however it is interesting and we are looking forward to seeing the results."

A second study, by Nottingham researchers, has shown how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help doctors pinpoint which parts of the brain are affected by a stroke, and limit the amount of long-term damage.

The Stroke Association spokeswoman said: "MRI is very helpful in detecting stroke. It is important in the management and treatment of stroke and the Association is pleased to be able to fund research into this vital technology.

"We hope that this study, which is still in the early stages, will help to reduce the devastating disability caused by stroke."

The research, which has been published in the Stroke journal, will be presented to the British Neuroscience Association conference in Harrogate on Monday.

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See also:

17 Feb 01 | Health
Stem cells repair stroke damage
14 Feb 01 | Health
Stroke advance 'could save lives'
07 Feb 01 | Health
Stroke test 'could save lives'
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