Researchers successfully repair stroke-damaged brains using human skin cells

LUND, Sweden — A stroke can have a devastating impact on the human brain, affecting our ability to move and even talk. In a breakthrough that scientists call “remarkable,” there is new hope for patients who have suffered a debilitating stroke.

Researchers in Sweden have restored the mobility and sense of touch in rats that have suffered a stroke. Using human skin cells reprogrammed to act as nerve cells, the scientists were able to repair the areas of the damaged rat brains.

“It is remarkable to find that it is actually possible to repair a stroke-damaged brain and recreate nerve connections that have been lost,” Lund University Prof. Olle Lindvall said in a statement.

Once the Swedish team transplanted the human cells into the rats, they found that the cells started making new connections within the stroke-affected rats. The cells not only started repairing the brains, but also made nerve connections to other healthy parts of the brain as well.

“Six months after the transplantation, we could see how the new cells had repaired the damage that a stroke had caused,” Prof. Zaal Kokaia explained.

Kokaia says this is the first time their studies have found transplanted cells making nerve connections with the opposite hemisphere of a rat’s brain. The researchers hope their work will eventually lead to replacing dead nerve cells in human stroke patients, but say that there’s a long way to go before that can happen.

“Our findings raise the possibility that injured neural circuitry might be restored by stem cells also in humans affected by stroke, which would have major clinical implications,” the authors wrote in the study’s findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team is now looking at how the transplants affect other brain functions like memory.