Early stem cell trial for stroke may show promise

27 May 2013

The BBC has reported minor but promising signs of recovery in a small number of stroke patients who have received stem cell treatments.

The elderly patients were all left severely disabled following strokes, and have been taking part in a clinical trial led by researchers at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital. Five of the nine patients have been said to show ‘mild to moderate’ improvements in mobility, balance and coordination, though it is too early to tell whether this is due to the stem cell injections to the damaged areas of their brain, or simply to the accompanying medical care.
However, lead researcher Prof Keith Muir of Glasgow University said he was surprised by the findings, since all the patients suffered from stokes at least six months before the trial began and recovery after this period is unusual. He told the BBC: "It seems odd that it should all just be chance and a placebo effect".
The results will be presented at the European Stroke Conference in London; if the trial is completed with positive results and no serious adverse effects, it will lead on to a phase two clinical trial to determine whether or not the positive effects are genuinely the result of the treatment.
The therapeutic stem cell line used in the trial was originally produced from a sample of foetal nerve tissue by company Reneuron, which has raised ethical concerns for some.
Comment: These are very preliminary results from one of the first clinical trials for stem cell treatments of this kind. Whilst hopes are high that the treatment will go on to fulfil this early promise, caution is essential; with so few patients in the trial, it is actually perfectly possible that a combination of chance and placebo effects have produced the observed improvements. 

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