What You Need To Know About New Ischemic Stroke Treatments
First, prepare yourself for some surprises.
If you are a survivor of an ischemic stroke, you are not alone. In the United States, almost 800,000 individual have a stroke every year.1 Of that group over 530,000 men and women are ischemic stroke survivors. An ischemic stroke is an event that causes a decrease in the flow of blood to the brain. Almost 87% of all strokes are ischemic.
Considering the numbers, you are probably not surprised to learn that strokes cost the United States an estimated $33-billion per year.
The statistics for recovery are not rosy. It is not unusual for 10% of ischemic stroke victims to recover completely. 25% will recover with minor impairments. 40% will experience moderate to severe impairments requiring special care. And 10% will need assistance in a long-term care facility. Many Americans who have had a stroke feel deep down in their hearts that life can be better.
One of the sad realities of post-stroke treatment is that typically, after three to six months, most stroke survivors reach a therapeutic plateau. Cognitive and physiological impairments are unlikely to improve dramatically, and survivors must learn to cope with a long-term disability. Of course, there are exceptions, and it shouldn’t surprise you if you have already guessed they are few and far between.
If you are an American, your options for post-stroke treatment can be roughly grouped under the heading Maintenance Care. After your first three to six months of recovery, your therapies are intended to help you maintain your current status cognitively and physically.
In Germany, there is another therapeutic option called cord blood transplants. It is not available in the United States. In clinical studies, most individuals who have had cord blood transplants have experienced long-term improvements cognitively and physically.
United States Maintenance Care
- Physical Therapy
- Speech Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Recreational Therapy
Germany Therapeutic Care (Medical Tourism)
- Cord Blood Infusions Containing Stem Cells
- Plus standard therapy options
Why are cord blood treatments not offered in the US?
As we said at the outset, expect some surprises. In the US, stem cell therapy for ischemic stroke victims in the general population is not allowed. The good news is that experimental stem cell treatments are permitted in Germany. And it is perfectly legal for an American to travel to Germany for the relatively pain-free treatment. All you need is a passport which you can apply for at most post offices. You may be surprised to learn that the German health system is ranked 14th in the world while the US is ranked 31st, so you can expect outstanding facilities and world-class doctors and staff while being treated in Germany.
So What’s So Great About Cord Blood?
This is going to get technical, but it is important that you understand the fundamentals and what to expect if you decide to travel to Germany for an ischemic stroke treatment using cord blood.
Cord blood is taken from the placenta and umbilical cord after birth. It contains stem cells which have several unique capabilities. Stem cells can be used to create all types of blood and tissue cells. Cord blood also includes several beneficial factors that help fight inflammation, regenerate neurons and enhance cell-to-cell signaling. Cord blood can be collected, tested for pathogens, cryopreserved and stored for decades.
Since 1988, cord blood has been used in transfusions to cure diseases. In the past decade, cord blood transfusions have been used widely to treat children with cerebral palsy which is a disease of the brain.
The positive results from the cerebral palsy trials and treatments inspired researchers to infuse cord blood into ischemic stroke survivors. They hoped to regenerate brain cells near the area of the brain that was damaged by the stroke. Amazingly, components in the infusion made their way through the bloodstream to the damaged region in the brain. The cord blood infusion initiated processes that supported healing, reduced inflammation and spurred on new neuron and blood vessel growth. Patients experienced improvements in cognitive and physical symptoms.
In a recent Phase, I clinical study named COBIS conducted at Duke University and Houston Methodist Neurological Institute researchers treated 10-male adults who had suffered an ischemic stroke. They infused them with a single intravenous dose of donated cord blood.2 All were infused between 3 and 9 days after their strokes. After three months, the study’s authors noted that all participants demonstrated positive therapeutic outcomes.
One individual stood out in the study. He was initially classified as suffering from a severe disability, requiring nursing care (MRS5). He improved dramatically and was now classified as a stroke survivor with only a slight disability. He was able to look after his own affairs without assistance (MRS2). The median improvement after three months for all ten subjects was 1.5 positions on the Rankin Scale, a significant boost for their quality of life.
If you are considering cord blood treatment for an ischemic stroke, you should understand that cord blood treatments in Germany are experimental in design. Like any medical treatment, some individuals may not register any improvement after a cord blood infusion. Cord blood infusions have been shown to be safe in study after study. It has also been determined that multi-dosing with donated (allogeneic) cord blood is safe. Early studies indicate that higher volumes of stem cells improve outcomes which is probably not surprising at all.
1 CDC Stroke Facts:
Allogeneic Umbilical Cord Blood Infusion for Adults with Ischemic Stroke: Clinical Outcomes from a Phase I Safety Study, Laskowitz, Bennett, Durham