Researchers hope stem cell trial will make headway for stroke recovery

Published: Aug. 27, 2019 at 3:47 PM EDT
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It's the fifth most common cause of death and the No. 1 cause of long-term disability. We're talking about stroke.

Now, researchers are conducting a new clinical trial called PISCES III to see if a drug made from stems cells helps with stroke recovery.

A simple signature speaks volumes for Malena Buck, who had a stroke during St. Petersburg College graduation. She couldn't write her name, walk or even talk with her students.

"I was walking in a walker for a long time. I couldn't move my hand," Buck said.

But then, through a University of South Florida study, she had a drug made from stem cells injected in her brain at the University of Chicago.

After the surgery, she was able to wave her right hand.

"I told the doctor, and he goes, 'They can't work that fast,' but the minute I got out of surgery, I could do things that I couldn't do before," Buck said.

USF and Tampa General Hospital Dr. Scott Burgin says most patients can feel the effects of the stem cells gradually.

"Preliminary research has shown that in these circumstances, it's very encouraging that using these cells can aid recovery," he said.

Burgin says that right now, most stroke recovery treatments are limited to conventional therapy. He says there isn't medication that helps with recovery.

"This would be kicking the door open to an entire new realm of possibilities for people with the most disabling medical condition that we come across in the world," he said.

After the surgery, Buck's life changed dramatically.

"If it wasn't for them or the stem cells, I would have just given up," she said.

Participants in the clinical trial must be age 35 to 75 and have limited movements of their arms and legs 12 months after stroke.




REPORT: MB #4617

BACKGROUND: Stroke is the number one cause of adult disability. A stroke affects the brain and is caused when blood flow to different areas of the brain is cut off. When blood is not being circulated to certain areas of the brain, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and will begin to die, affecting abilities controlled by that area, such as memory or muscle control. There are two different types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is the more common of two, but a hemorrhagic stroke is more deadly. Stroke affects nearly 800,000 people a year and is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. (Source:

PREVENT STROKE: Even though old age and family history are major risk factors for having a stroke, 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Things like lowering your blood pressure, not using tobacco, cutting back on alcohol, exercise, and a better diet are among the things people can do to put themselves at lower risk for having a stroke. Keeping your blood pressure low is critical, because high blood pressure is the number one cause of strokes. There are nearly 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S. (Source: &

STEM CELL RESEARCH: William Scott Burgin, MD, Professor & Division Director, Vascular Neurology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine helped stroke survivor Malena Buck go from not walking and talking to playing Jenga. He explains how stem cells can be delivered to stroke patients, "There are many ways they can be delivered. In the case of (Malena), those were stem cells that were administered by way of a surgery, implanted in the brain in the location where the brain injury was. But down the road, we're looking at other ways that this could happen. Potentially these could be administered in the future by intravenous infusion or other yet to be determined techniques." Burgin says the significance of their research for stroke patients is huge. "We don't have a medication that actually improves people's extent and course of recovery. So, this would be kicking the door open to an entire new realm of possibilities for people with the most disabling medical condition that we come across in the world," said Burgin. (Source: William Scott Burgin, MD)