U research promising for stroke treatment

by Courtney Lewis

Researchers in the University’s department of neurosurgery and the Stem Cell Institute announced Monday they were successful in transplanting adult stem cells into laboratory rats to alleviate stroke complications.

Walter Low, the study’s principal investigator, said the work could one day improve the overall health of stroke victims, but more research needs to be done.

“The study is a big, big step,” Low said.

Human bone marrow donated by volunteers was isolated and expanded in labs before being transplanted into rats suffering from ischemic stroke.

Researchers introduced stroke disabilities into the rats before the expanded cells were transplanted into their brains seven days later, said Dirk Keene, a graduate student in the department of neurosurgery. After several weeks, the animals regained use of their limbs.

Keene said he has worked with these cells since September 1999. He said the recent developments with the rats are a good start.

Grants funded the majority of the research, and the neurology department covered Low’s overhead expenses.

Keene said expanding enough stem cells from the isolated group was a challenge, and expansion takes time.

He said cells must be expanded to prepare them for transplantation, a process that normally takes six to eight weeks.

Up to 200,000 cells can be isolated from human bone marrow, but Keene said the number varies greatly depending on the donor.

“The hurdle is growing enough to use,” Keene said.

Although the cells don’t fully mature into brain cells, they exhibit characteristics of neurons, astrocytes and oligodendroglia cells located in the brain. Low said once the stem cells have been transplanted, they begin to migrate to damaged areas of the brain for repair.

“Previous group studies have shown bone marrow cells developing into tissue cells,” Low said. “Now these cells can help restore function.

Low said researchers are currently examining whether the cells will be able to maintain stability.

“The ability of bone marrow stem cells to differentiate into cells that are typically found in the brain, and restore function in laboratory animals with stroke holds promise for people who have experienced a stroke,” Low said in a written statement.

Low said researchers are still working to determine whether transplanting more cells would aid rehabilitation.

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]