A British man has become the first patient in the world to receive a pioneering stem cell therapy to repair brain damage caused by stroke. The man, who had suffered an ischaemic stroke 16 months earlier, had neural stem cells injected into his brain near the area of stroke damage, although the researchers do not expect to see any immediate or significant improvements at this stage.
The clinical trial is primarily designed to test the safety of the stem cell therapy, but researchers will also investigate the effectiveness of the therapy in repairing brain damage and reducing disability after stroke. A total of 12 patients will be recruited to the trial - all of who will be more than 60 years old and have suffered a stroke in the past six to 24 months. The stroke patients will be given a range of stem cell doses to test their safety.
Professor Keith Muir, from the Division of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Glasgow, who is leading the study, said: 'In this trial we are seeking to establish the safety and feasibility of stem-cell implantation, which will require careful follow-up of the patients who take part'.
The stem cells were obtained by British company ReNeuron and were derived from human fetal brain cells. The stem cells have been extensively studied in animal models and pre-clinical testing, and have been shown to be safe and effective in the repair of brain damaged tissue and to reverse stroke-related disability in rats.
The clinical trial received UK regulatory approval in January 2009. The researchers expect some of the injected stem cells will eventually become nerve cells in the damaged brain, but will also stimulate intrinsic repair processes such as new blood vessel growth and mobilisation of the brain's own resident stem cells.
Professor Muir said: 'At this late stage after a stroke you are effectively dealing with a hole in the brain where the brain tissue used to be'. He added that: 'The area of damage is probably larger than a golf ball. If we see anything, I suspect it will be much more akin to rewiring and promoting the repair process occurring naturally rather than filling in huge gaps in the head'.