Stroke | Stem Cells Australia



Stroke is a leading cause of death in Australia, and a major cause of disability.

Blood is carried to our brains through special blood vessels called arteries. A stroke happens when our blood supply to the brain is reduced or interrupted. This can happen because there is a blockage in an artery, or because an artery bursts. Depending on the extent of stroke and where it occurs, about a third of those who have strokes recover quite well, but most still experience some permanent effects and some strokes cause severe disability.

Anyone of any age can have a stroke, but age, family health history and lifestyles can affect your risk of having one.

The best treatment for someone experiencing a stroke is to get treatment as quickly as possible to restore blood flow.

sca cell images Stroke

How could stem cells help?

There are currently no stem cell therapies available for stroke. Researchers around the world are using different types of stem cells to study how the brain works and to investigate how the damage caused by stroke may one day be repaired.

Understanding mechanisms

The brain stem cells, called ‘neural stem cells’ are the brain’s natural repair cells. Scientists want to understand the signals that control these stem cells so they can design better treatments that put these naturally occurring cells to work.

Developing new drugs

Stem cell research may be used in the development of new drugs that could stimulate the brain’s own repair mechanisms, including its own stem cells, to make the new cells that are needed for recovery, and have them migrate to the damaged areas. There is some evidence that certain chemicals can be used to encourage the neural stem cells that are already in the brain to divide, multiply and move towards damaged areas. This may open up new ways to treat stroke by using medication.

Replacing lost cells

There are limited numbers of neural stem cells in our brains, which means scientists are working on how to grow them in a lab, and then safely transplant them into the brain. As there are many different types of cells in the brain, the kinds of cells that need to be grown in the lab depend on what part of the brain is damaged in the stroke.

What are the challenges?

One reason that helping people recover from a stroke can be difficult is that stroke damages many different types of cells in the brain, sometimes over a large region. This means that, if we want to develop a therapy to replace lost or damaged cells, an effective treatment will require an ability to make the correct types of neurons and other brain cells, correctly ‘wire’ new neurons into existing neuron networks and joining the cells up with the brain’s blood supply. Above all the intervention will need to be safe (e.g. not cause cancer or other complications).

Where can I find out more about clinical trials?

There are a number of sites that list clinical trials, including the registry. Please note that the scientific justification for the intervention and the credentials of those offering the service may have NOT been fully evaluated by this registry. Your findings may include listings that are NOT legitimate clinical trials. Please consult with your medical specialist or general practitioner as they are best placed to advise you on whether you would be a good candidate for a trial given your circumstances. 

Please note: Although some clinics may claim to already offer stem cell treatments for various forms of vision loss, there are serious questions about the scientific rationale and the safety of many of these approaches. Currently, there are no proven, safe and effective stem cell treatments for stroke available in Australia, the EU, US or elsewhere.

Some of this material has been adapted from factsheets produced by under a Creative Commons license.
Where else can I go to find out more?

Stem Cell Treatments - Frequently Asked Questions

National Health and Medical Research Council

Download PDF

Stem cell research - now and in the future

Stem Cells Australia

Watch video

Patient Handbook on Stem Cell Therapies

International Society for Stem Cell Research

Download pdf

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