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Stem cell first brings hope to stroke victims

Scottish doctors have injected stem cells into the brain of a stroke patient in a world’s first trial that could pave the way for better treatment.

The Glasgow University team successfully carried out the ground-breaking procedure on a man at the city’s Southern General Hospital, earning praise from medical colleagues and bringing cautious hope to stroke sufferers around the world.

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The study, named Pisces -- Pilot Investigation of Stem Cells in Stroke -- is the first of its kind and will help determine whether implanted stem cells can repair damaged areas of the brain.

Each year around 13,000 Scots suffer strokes, of whom one in four is aged under 65. A quarter of stroke victims die and many of the survivors are left with severe disabilities. There are now more than 80,000 people living with the effects of a stroke in Scotland, according to support charity Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.

The patient who volunteered for the new trial had suffered an ischaemic stroke, the most common form, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain. He has already been discharged from hospital, and will be monitored for the next two years. No more details of the man were released.

Professor Keith Muir, from Glasgow University’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, led the trial and said he hoped it would lead to larger scale testing. He added: “We are pleased the first patient in the Pisces trial has undergone surgery successfully.

“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. We hope that in future it will lead on to larger studies to determine the effects of stem cells on the disabilities that result from stroke.”

The success sent share prices soaring by 48% at Angel Biotechnology, which produced the cells in Edinburgh. The trial was carried out with Surrey stem cell research firm ReNeuron.

The firm’s chief executive, Michael Hunt, described it as a “major and hard-won milestone”.

Other academics were enthusiastic about the prospects from the successful trial.

Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at Kent University, said: “The news by the Glasgow team represents an important and exciting step with potential, in the long term, for treatment of a range of diseases.

“We should guard against raising expectations of miracle cures for thousands of patients in the near future, however, as the current trial will require extensive tests for efficacy and safety.

“Nevertheless there is room for cautious optimism.”

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, research liaison officer at the Stroke Association, which has helped fund stroke research in Scotland since 1992, said: “When a stroke strikes, the brain is starved of oxygen and, as a result, brain cells in the affected area die. The use of stem cells to replace dead brain tissue is a promising technique which could help to reverse some of the disabling effects of stroke.

“We are very excited about this trial. However, we are currently at the beginning of a very long road and significant further development is needed before stem cell therapy can be regarded as a possible treatment.”

Jan Buncle, of charity Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, described the breakthrough as exciting, but warned that it is still “very, very early days”.


Fat could aid heart attack recovery

Belly fat might have a good use after all -- as a heart attack treatment. Scientists in the Netherlands and Spain have used stem cells derived from waistline fat tissue to help recovery from a heart attack.

After they were injected into the hearts of patients, the cells reduced levels of damage, increased blood flow and improved the organs’ pumping ability. Fourteen people took part in the study and researchers now want to try again with up to 375 patients.

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