- Doctors successfully repaired stroke-damaged rat brains using human skin cells that had been reprogrammed to act as nerve cells.
- The new cells made the correct connections in the brain after being transplanted, restoring movement and sensation.
- Further studies are needed to determine how safe and effective the procedure is before deciding to pursue testing in other animals and eventually humans.
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Over the years, doctors and healthcare professionals have learned a lot about what increases the risk of a person having a stroke. Things like high blood pressure, smoking, and heart disease can all play a major role in whether or not a person will suffer a stroke during their lifetime, but treatment after a person has had a stroke often means a lengthy rehabilitation, and even then it’s no guarantee that the individual will make a full recovery.
In a perfect world, doctors would be able to actually repair the damage that a stroke causes to the brain, fixing the damage and returning the brains to their pre-stroke functionality. Now, researchers at Sweden’s Lund University believe they have taken one small step in that direction by repairing the brains of stroke-afflicted rats.
The research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on repairing the damaged rodent brains using human skin cells that had been “reprogrammed” to act like nerve cells. The cells were transplanted into the brains of the rodents, who were then allowed to heal. Remarkably, the new cells repaired the damage caused by the stroke, and even more incredibly, the new connections restored the animals’ mobility and the sense of touch which had previously been lost.
“Six months after the transplantation, we could see how the new cells had repaired the damage that a stroke had caused in the rats’ brains,” Professor Zaal Kokaia, co-author of the research, explains. This is especially interesting because prior research had hinted that human cells could be compatible with the brains of stroke-afflicted rats, but whether the cells would be able to make the correct connections and actually restore lost movement or sensation was still up in the air.
Now, it seems, that question has been answered, and the rats in the study did indeed benefit from the transplant significantly. “It is remarkable to find that it is actually possible to repair a stroke-damaged brain and recreate nerve connections that have been lost,” Olle Lindvall, co-author of the study, says. “The study kindles hope that in the future it could be possible to replace dead nerve cells with new healthy nerve cells also in stroke patients, even though there is a long way to go before achieving that.”
Going forward, the researchers plan on focusing on how the repaired rat brains may alter the animals’ quality of life. Things like memory tests will show just how rapidly the new cells can bring the brains back to normal. These kinds of experiments aren’t close to being ready for human trials, but it’s possible that we’ll see such options available for stroke patients in the not-so-distant future.