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July 5, 2018

A stroke is a medical emergency, which results in lack of blood supply to the brain for a while. Due to the break in blood supply, the affected part of the brain undergoes loss of cells. Several red signals include trouble in seeing, blackening and slurred speech. This can be accompanied by numbness or paralysis. A stroke requires emergency help at a hospital. Several causes have been pinpointed for strokes such as obesity, alcohol, sedentary lifestyle or drug abuse, high blood pressure, diabetes, apnoea and family history.

Several complications that arise of stroke include paralysis to affected parts that require therapy as well as difficulty in swallowing or talking. A major challenge with stroke patients is the emotional issues that can arise because of dependency on a caretaker. There are two major classes of strokes: ischemic and haemorrhagic stroke of which the former accounts for 80%.

Acute ischemic stroke refers to a narrowing or blocking of arteries that supply blood to the brain and is treated by injection of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). A hitch in this approach is this therapy requires the patient to start treatment within hours of an attack that cannot be the case always. Instead of medicines, mechanical devices can also be used such as surgical clips or coils that can tackle the vessel.

Is there a long-term cure? Is there a solution that can help address the damaged cells rather than clinical treatment? Let us look at stem cells! Since 2005, there have been several studies using stem cells to address the condition of stroke using several adult stem cells such as neural stem/progenitor cells, apart from mesenchymal stem cells and bone marrow cells. Such adult stem cells such as mesenchymal stem cells are reported to have an edge over other cell types to repair damaged cells as these cells can secrete factors necessary for the growth of the damaged cells of the nervous system apart from blood vessels to regenerate the tissue. These cells can also be differentiated into neural stem cells as well and can reduce the scarring associated with stroke.

Several studies have reported beneficial results in the use of stem cells for stroke; for instance, a study published in 2016 showed stem cell therapy improved quality of life for stroke patients although further investigation is warranted. The transplantation of bone marrow cells from a patient’s own body was shown to be effective in another study.

Another recent report points out at studies that are examining the use of stem cells from bone marrow or fat or umbilical cord or menstrual blood for stroke. While the field of stem cells is being studied as a cure for stroke, the improvement of growth and functioning of damaged nerve cells have been attempted from several stem cells. The use of stem cells engrafted has shown significant improvement in the functioning of neural cells whose mechanisms are also under observation. Several clinical trials are exploring the use of autologous cells (or cells from a patient’s own tissue) and the outcomes have been encouraging.

Most studies have reported very few side effects, except for seizure in a sporadic condition, stem cell could hold a promise to a stroke patient who already faces several hurdles in the road back to normalcy. And if these stem cells can aid a quick journey back home then why not?

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