Stem cells grown in space may help stroke survivors

Hemorrhagic stroke is responsible for more than 30 percent of all stroke deaths.

It happens when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain.

Currently treatment aims to control swelling but not regeneration of the damaged tissue.

Now, researchers are using an out of this world idea to help stroke survivors.

Walking on the treadmill and lifting weights are all activities Jon Galvan could not even think about doing five years ago after he almost died from a hemorrhagic stroke while at work.

Jon Galvan says, "I was typing away and I felt a pop in my head."

He was able to recover, but Mayo Clinic Doctor Abba Zubair says not everyone is as fortunate.

Dr. Zubair says, “If it happens, you either recover completely or die. That's what killed my mother."

Dr. Zubair wants to send bone marrow derived stem cells to the international space station.

"Based on our experience with bone marrow transplant you need about two-hundred to five-hundred million cells," Dr. Zubair says.

Conventionally grown stem cells take a month.

Experiments on earth have shown that stem cells will grow faster in less gravity.

"Five to ten times faster, but it could be more,” Dr. Zubair says.

Specifically, Zubair hopes to expand the number of stem cells that will help regeneration of neurons and blood vessels in hemorrhagic stroke patients.

Dr. Zubair says, "I think this will revolutionize how we treat stroke patients, not only hemorrhagic but even the ischemic stroke, which is much more common."

The stem cells will be taken to the international space station within a year.

While one batch of cells is grown in space, another batch will be grown on earth.

Other than the appearance of gravity the growing environments will be the same.

Dr. Zubair says if the lack of gravity proves to be a better environment for stem cell growth, then the next step will be to transform the cells into tissue-and ultimately organs.

He envisions a future where replacement organs can be grown in space as well.


REPORT: MB # 3767

BACKGROUND: A brain hemorrhage is a stroke that is caused by an artery in the brain that bursts which causes bleeding in tissues around the brain. The effects on the brain lead to damaged brain cells. Brain hemorrhages make up 13 percent of strokes and can easily take the lives of affected patients. A cerebral edema occurs when blood from a trauma accident irritates brain tissues. This affects the tissue and reduces blood flow in the brain. (Source:

SYMPTOMS: Common symptoms of a brain hemorrhage depend on the location of the bleeding in the brain. Emergency attention needs to be brought to a doctor if any of these symptoms exist:
* Severe headaches
* Changes in vision
* Loss of balance
* Sudden seizures
* Loss of motor skills
* Abnormal sense of taste
* Decreased alertness
* Loss of consciousness

NEW TECHNOLOGY: There are currently no treatment options available to doctors or patients which can help regenerate the brain tissue damage caused by stroke. However, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are looking at a way to use stem cells to solve the problem. But first they have to be able to grow enough stem cells quickly enough for such treatment to be viable. They're currently planning to send stem cells to the International Space Station to have them grow in the microgravity environment in space. Experiments on earth have shown they may grow up to five or ten times faster in microgravity. This would allow massive numbers of stem cells needed for such treatments, between 200 and 500 million, to be grown much quicker than on earth. (Source: Dr. Abba Zubair, Mayo Clinic)

Kevin Punsky
External Communications Manager
Mayo Clinic Florida

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