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A stem cell study shows promising results for severe stroke patients

Doctors could eventually have another treatment option for stroke patients. (Michael McCloskey)

An injection of stem cells into the brains of recent stroke victims might help their long-term recovery, according to a promising but preliminary study out of the United Kingdom's Imperial College London.

A strokes occurs when there is an interruption or reduction of blood flow to the brain. The particular stem cells used in this treatment could, in theory, encourage the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, as the BBC explained.  Blood vessel growth could help patients suffering from a severe stroke regain the ability to walk, talk and take care of themselves to a greater degree, and with greater speed, than previously possible during recovery. But again, this is just a preliminary study -- a guide for researchers to a potential new path for stem-cell based stroke treatments.

Working on the hypothesis that this approach might have an effect on more recent stroke cases, researchers treated patients within a week of their strokes. The stroke patients in the pilot study demonstrated signs of recovery over a six-month period after treatment. But the small study of just five patients did not demonstrate whether that improvement came from the therapy or from the hospital care the stroke patients also received during the six-month time frame.

However, the sample demonstrated a somewhat remarkable survival and tentative recovery rate, no matter the cause. Four patients of the five were recovering from the most severe form of stroke, which overall has an extremely low rate of patients who survive and can eventually live independently. At the end of the study, all four of those patients were alive. Three were able to live independently.

The next step, the ICL's consultant neurologist Paul Bentley told the Guardian, would be a larger, controlled and randomized study with 50 patients. That study, for which the group is currently seeking funding, would look to discern whether the pilot study's promising results really had anything to do with the treatment.

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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