11 July 1998

Repairing The Brain Damage Caused By Stroke

In a ground-breaking operation, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Centre have injected artificial neuronal cells into the brain of a 62-year-old stroke patient. The technique has already been tried with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, but this is the first attempt to restore neurological deficit caused by stroke.

The hope is that the new cells will help repair damage and restore lost functions like arm and leg movement. If successful, the operation will represent a major leap forward. Never before have scientists been able to repair actual stroke damage to the brain.

Scientists and neurological specialists have been vigorously pursuing new treatment approaches for stroke victims over the past decade. However, most attention has focused on either reducing damage to the brain (during or soon after a stroke) or using rehabilitation based on physical and occupational therapy.

The neurons used in this trial are made by Layton Bioscience of California, and are derived from a human teratocarcinoma - a tumour of the reproductive organs made up of embryo-like cells.

The company has patented a method for transforming this cell line into fully differentiated non-dividing neurons for clinical applications. Previous trials had raised ethical concerns due to the use of fetal tissue. In this trial, however, the tissue was artificially grown in a laboratory.

There is hope that the new approach will also be of benefit to patients with spine injuries and other neurogenerative disorders.