In a first-of-its-kind trial at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a stroke patient has been treated by intravenously injecting him with his own bone marrow stem cells.
Roland "Bud" Henrich, 61, suffered a stroke while working on his farm in Liberty, and was then transferred to Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on March 25.
But because he arrived too late, he could not receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the only treatment for ischemic strokes, and thus became the first patient in the trial.
The Phase I safety trial will enroll nine more patients who have suffered a stroke, and can be treated with the stem cell procedure within 24 to 72 hours of initial symptoms.
Stroke occurs when blockage or a rupture in an artery interrupts blood flow to the brain, and thus deprives brain tissue of oxygen.
"It's still very early in this safety study, but this could be an exciting new therapeutic approach for people who have just suffered a stroke," said Dr. Sean Savitz, assistant professor of neurology at the medical school and the study's lead investigator.
He added: "Animal studies have shown that when you administer stem cells after stroke, the cells enhance the healing. We know that stem cells have some kind of guidance system and migrate to the area of injury. They're not making new brain cells but they may be enhancing the repair processes and reducing inflammatory damage."
He also said that animal studies had shown that the healing effects of stem cells could occur as early as a week, but warned that it was too early to attribute Henrich's improvement to the stem cell treatment.
"I'm hoping he will get better and it will be because of the cells, but it's just hope at this point," said Savitz.
For the trial, the researchers harvested stem cells from the bone marrow in the iliac crest of his leg, which was then separated and returned to Henrich several hours later.
But, being his own stem cells, there's no chance of rejection in Henrich's case.
When he arrived at the hospital, he could not speak and had significant weakness on his right side.
But after Henrich was released after nearly two weeks of hospitalisation and rehabilitation, he could walk and climb stairs unassisted and said his first words.
"This study is the critical first step in translating laboratory work with stem cells into benefit for patients. If effective, this treatment could be helpful to a huge segment of stroke patients to reduce their disability," said Dr. James C. Grotta, Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Distinguished Professor of Neurology and chair of the Department of Neurology at the medical school.