According to the CDC, almost 130,000 people die in the U.S. from strokes each year. That's one death every four minutes on average. Most who suffer strokes, however, don't die - instead they must live with debilitating conditions caused by brain injury. In fact, strokes are one of the leading causes of long-term disability in world.
But we have some good news, as Crystal Dilworth reports in today's DNews dispatch.
First, the details on what a stroke actually is: The term "stroke" refers to an event, rather than a condition. Simply put, it's the sudden death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen. A stroke can occur at anytime to anyone, and there are two types that can happen.
The most common is when a clot in your blood vessels blocks the flow of blood to the brain, but strokes can also happen when internal bleeding in or around the brain creates swelling and pressure, compressing and damaging brain tissue. Strokes often result in permanent impairments such as paralysis, loss of sensory function, problems thinking, speaking, or regulating emotions.
Now for the good news: In August, researchers announced that the brain damage caused by strokes may be reversible, thanks to a new therapeutic treatment using stem cells. The paper, published in the journal Nature Medicine, details a series of experiments in which lab mice who had suffered a stroke with treated with human stem cells plus a special signaling protein in the blood.
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A variant of activated protein C, this particular substance triggers human neuronal stem cells to change into functional neurons. Stem cells are a type of cell that have the ability to change into specific tissue types like skin or bone or, yes, brain tissue. This is hugely significant because most brain tissue does regenerate and heal by itself. That's why strokes are so devastating - medical treatments can limit the damage from strokes, but they can't heal the brain.
In the lab tests, mice that were treated with the stem cells and special protein did indeed grow new neurons. Even better, those neurons got straight to work: The treated mice were able to better perform diagnostic motor tasks like walking on a beam, or removing a piece of tape from their feet.
What's more, the stem cell treatment was administered seven days after the stroke event. In human stroke mitigation techniques, the patient must be treated within hours of the event for significant reduction of brain damage.
Crystal has more information in her report, including details on different kinds of strokes, how they damage the brain, and most importantly - how to avoid them in the first place.
-- Glenn McDonald
ScienceDaily: Hope for reversing stroke-induced long-term disability
BBC: Stimulating brain with electricity 'boosts stroke recovery'
Stroke.org: Stroke Recovery