New stem cell therapy looks to help stroke patients

It is the number three cause of death, but the leading cause of disability, in the United States.

For many victims of stroke, surviving it is just the beginning, with many left fighting to regain complete motor function for the rest of their lives.

Now, doctors are looking at a way to reverse stroke effects after it happens.

Valisa Blanton knows a thing or two about beauty.

She says, "I love doing hair. I absolutely love it."

The single mom has been a hairdresser for 20 years, but that all changed last spring.

"I couldn't talk. It was like 'Ra ra ra...oh my god, what's happening to me? I'm having a stroke.'"

Valisa lost some motor function in the right side of her body. Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke. Doctors use clot-busting drugs to help prevent that from happening. However, neurosurgeon, Dr. George Rappard, says, after that, there's only a 15 to 20 percent chance of improvement.

Dr. Rappard says, "We've been very limited in fixing a stroke once it's happened. All we have is physical therapy."

Now, a first-of-its-kind trial is testing the use of a stroke patient's own stem cells to restore function.

"They are a population of cells you retain in your body that have the ability to turn into other things."

Doctors think the stem cells might act as instructive cells, telling the brain how to heal.

"We take the stem cells that your body normally uses to make red blood cells and separate those stem cells out of the bone marrow."

Doctors then inject them into the affected side of the brain through the groin.

In mice, there was a 40% improvement in motor skills.

"I think that's one of the most potentially exciting things in my field ever."

Valisa says, "I feel like my brain is like 'Wow!'"

Valisa is part of the double blind human study. While she doesn't know if she received the stem cells or not, it has given her hope toward a full recovery.

The phase one trial involved 10 patients.

Doctors hope to enroll at least 100 for phase two.

Only patients with ischemic strokes will be eligible to participate in the clinical trial.


STROKE BACKGROUND: A stroke is an attack on the brain. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. In the United States alone, stroke is the third leading cause of death, killing about 137,000 people each year. Approximately 795,000 people will suffer from some form of stroke this year. Strokes can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age and it is the leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. (SOURCE:,

TYPES OF STROKES: There are two major types of strokes: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when arteries are blocked by blood clots or by the gradual build-up of plaque and other fatty deposits. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks leaking blood into the brain. SOURCE: (

THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOWN: Approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year. Men's stroke incidence rates are greater than women's at younger ages, but not older ages; and African Americans are twice as likely of having a stroke compared to whites. About 87 % of all strokes are ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes account for 13% of all strokes, yet are responsible for more than thirty percent of all stroke deaths. SOURCE: (

DETECTION: Use the F.A.S.T. to detect signs of a Stroke:

F = FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = TIME If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately. SOURCE: (

PREVENTION: There are ways to prevent a stroke, such as: Not smoking or quitting smoking; controlling your cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes; exercising at least 30 minutes a day; maintaining a healthy weight; and limiting how much alcohol you drink. This means 1 drink a day for women and 2 a day for men. SOURCE: (

LIFE AFTER A STROKE: Stroke rehabilitation is the process by which a stroke survivor works with a team of health care providers with the aim of regaining as much of the function lost after a stroke as possible. By joining a comprehensive rehabilitation program immediately after leaving the hospital, stroke survivors can maximize their chances of recovery, and in most cases they can regain a substantial portion of the functions they lost as a result of their stroke.

Some of the different types of medical professionals who participate in the care of stroke patients during the rehabilitation process include:
1. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physicians (Physiatrists)
2 .Physical Therapists
3. Speech Therapists
4. Occupational Therapists

BREAKTHROUGH STEM CELL STUDY: Stem cells are the body's raw materials - cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Researchers hope to train stem cells into becoming specific cells so that those specialized cells can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people. Both polypeptide growth factors and stem cell populations from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood hold promise as treatments to enhance neurologic recovery after a stroke. The ALD-401 trial is a phase 2 study with a phase 1 safety cohort testing ALD-401 stem cells derived from autologous bone marrow delivered via intracarotid infusion in subjects with ischemic stroke. All study assessments are blinded. This trial is the first trial in the United States and in the world to study the infusion of stem cells into the human brain. SOURCE: (; (; (

For More Information:

Los Angeles Brain and Spine Institute
Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center

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