Specialists Call For Increased Funding Of Stroke Research: Promising New Ideas Require Further Study For More Applicable Therapies

Cerebral stroke is among the most frequent reasons for death and life-long impairment worldwide, greatly burdening affected families and healthcare systems. “In the last decade, breathtaking advances have been made in understanding, among other aspects, the molecular and cellular mechanisms of such events,” Prof. José Manuel Ferro, chairman of Neuroscience with the University of Lisbon, said today at the Meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS) in Lisbon. More than 3,200 neurological experts from everywhere are currently talking about the most recent advancements in all areas of their area of expertise in the Portuguese capital.

The breakthroughs presented at the ENS Meeting include several brand new findings. They relate to the mechanisms of so-called reperfusion injuries, or strokes that advance despite timely thrombolysis; to promising approaches for restoring the damage to regions of the brain by certain kinds of stem cells; to new observations in to the potentially lethal interplay between the central nervous system and the immune system during stroke; also to methods such as hypothermia to safeguard the stroke-stricken brain from lasting damage.

Searching for the causes of reperfusion injuries

Reperfusion injuries – the occurrence of a ongoing stroke despite the early opening of occluded vessels e.g. by thrombolytic medication – has been a long standing riddle. A new German study (University Wurzburg) provided at the ENS Meeting sheds some light on the hidden elements that could lead the path toward brand new therapies. Studies with mice strongly suggest that the opening of big vessels doesn’t impede the development of thromboses on the microvascular level combined with inflammatory processes. The study also identified multi purpose molecules crucial both in inflammation and in platelet gathering or amassing (the clots of blood designed to close an injury that similarly obstructs the blood-flow in little vessels). Influencing those molecules can lead to long term treatments for combating both thrombus development and inflammation.

Stem cells for damaged brain areas

As with other traumas, the human organism provides mechanisms to auto-repair brain injuries by proliferating stem cells produced in the bone marrow plus distinguishing them into new neurons, arteries and synapses. Researchers have pondered for quite some time that the application of additional stem cells might enhance in addition to accelerate these repair steps, mitigating the disabling effects of cerebral strokes. Brand new results offered at today’s ENS Meeting by the Madrid-based Foundation for Biomedical Research with the University Hospital La Paz bring this approach a huge step nearer to clinical use. Initially, injections of neuronal stem cells and bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, hitherto tested only in animals, were confirmed harmless and practical for humans. Along with other research displaying a lowering of cell death and an increased production of neuronal and vascular cells following the application pursuing the injection of stem cells in mice, this opens up the path for promising phase III studies to evaluate the direct impact of stem cells for the results of stroke in human patients. Hopefully, this can lead to fresh therapeutic methods to support the brain’s self-repair process and reduce the long-term damage leftover after a stroke.

Research on hypothermia inhibition of lasting brain damage need fine tuning

Research into hypothermia as a treatment option to minimize the consequences of a stroke is sophisticated. The process involves slowing down the metabolism and thus the advancement of neuronal brain damage through cooling the patient’s blood to about 32-34°C. “Hypothermia has already proven its neuroprotective properties in improving the neurological outcome of survivors of cardiac arrest and of infants who suffered brain damage from an under-supply with oxygen,” Prof. Ferro reported. “At today’s meeting we heard the first promising results of applying hypothermia in acute ischemic stroke. As expected, it seems to be safe and feasible. But to optimally implement it in daily clinical routines, important details such as depth, duration, the best method for cooling and possible side-effects, including infections, are still being studied.”

Money being a key to applicability

The bottom line is the most important new observations which might produce innovative therapies and prevention strategies over the following few years. However financing these studies remains the crucial problem. Hopefully that this conference will assist to promote that. During times of economic crisis, we must remember that the current money in stoke research can prevent greater long term costs in addition to unnecessary individual suffering of those possibly impacted.