March 10 (UPI) — Treating stroke victims with an injection of bone marrow cells may lead to a reduction in brain injury, according to a study published Wednesday by STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.
All 17 patients who received bone marrow cells following a stroke showed improvements in the corticospinal tract on brain scans 12 months later, the researchers said.
Damage to the corticospinal tract, the main white matter region of the brain responsible for carrying movement-related information to the spinal cord, is the primary cause of motor function impairment after a stroke, they said.
“Nearly 90 percent of patients who suffer an ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke — exhibit weakness or paralysis to one side of the body,” study co-author Dr. Muhammad E. Haque said in a press release.
Previous animal studies have shown how bone marrow cells “enhance recovery, including white matter tract remodeling, [which] led us to our current study,” said Haque, a neurologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston’s Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease.
Earlier research by the same team tested the use of intravenous administration of a patient’s own bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells as treatment following an ischemic stroke.
In that study, evidence existed of preliminary corticospinal tract recovery in a part of the brain stem, which links the brain with the spinal cord, the researchers said.
For this study, the researchers used 3D anatomical and diffusion tensor images via magnetic resonance imaging to compare tiny, but significant changes in the white matter of 37 stroke patients.
Diffusion tensor imaging is an MRI technique that is most commonly used to examine the brain and estimate its white matter organization.
The 37 patients in the study ranged in age from 18 to 80. While all received the standard stroke treatment and rehabilitation follow-up, 17 patients whose strokes were the most severe received bone marrow cell injections.
Three months later, MRI scans of each patient showed a decrease in the integrity of their corticospinal tracts.
However, scans taken 12 months later showed an improvement in the corticospinal tracts of the 17 patients who received the injections.
Conversely, the corticospinal tracts of the non-injected patients exhibited ongoing and continuing injury and degeneration.
“These results suggest the possibility of microstructural stabilization in the cell-injected group as compared with the non-treated patients,” Haque said.
“We envision that future clinical trials might be directed toward identifying white matter protection or repair as an important mechanistic target of efficacy studies and potency assays for bone marrow cell therapies,” he said.