YOUR HEALTH: Using stem cells to help stroke victims fully recover

MIAMI, Florida – Julian Fowles was a busy entertainment lawyer who loved to dance.

"My wife just loves to salsa."

But the music stopped when Julian had a stroke about five years ago.

"I lost use of my legs and left arm, my face fell."

Experts say the effects of a stroke can be reversed if the patient gets to the hospital within a 24 hour window.   Julian didn't seek help till the next day.

"Speech can be slurred or lost, eyesight can be affected," said Dr. Dileep Yavagal, director of Interventional Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Now there's new hope using stem cells.

"These are the building blocks of our bodies," explained Dr. Yavagal.

Researchers at the University of Miami are conducting a clinical trial, injecting stem cells from healthy donors into the damaged areas of patients' brains.

It`s called the ACTIsSIMA trial. patients should be between the ages of 18 and 85 and suffered a stroke in the previous six months to seven and a half years.  There are 60 clinical sites across the country including Peoria's OSF St. Francis Hospital.

"That we can actually get the brain to start to heal, regenerate neurons, and for the first time produce improvement in these patient`s symptoms," said Dr. Jonathan Jagid, a neurological surgeon at the University of Miami.

The minimally invasive procedure is done through a one inch incision in the skull.

"With the idea that the cells will stimulate repair of the stroke area," said Dr. Yavagal.

And strengthen weak limbs.

CURRENT TREATMENT:   There are two different kinds of stroke, ischemic or hemorrhagic and this will determine the best emergency treatment for the patient.   To treat ischemic stroke, blood flow must be quickly restored to the brain.  To treat a hemorrhagic stroke, focus is on controlling the bleeding and reducing pressure in the brain.   Surgery may also be performed to help reduce future risk.   A current option for treatment within the first 24 hour window after a stroke is a thrombectomy; however, only fifty percent of all stroke patients are eligible for this treatment and over fifty percent of the patients who get the procedure still remain dependent.   (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350119)

Julian had the procedure last July.   Because it's a double blind study, he doesn't know whether he got the stem cells or not.

"I'm looking forward to some change."

He says he's feeling stronger every day, rowing as part of his rehab.   He hopes the stem cells are helping him and, some day, others recovering from stroke.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.