COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke. It’s the second-leading cause of death worldwide, and those who survive often have irreversible brain damage resulting in paralysis, speech impairment and loss of motor function.
No treatments exist to address the lasting and debilitating damage to brain tissue caused by a stroke. Medical advancements have allowed for doctors to remove the clots from the brain, but there are no treatments to prevent these long-term issues because ischemic stroke victims aren’t treated fast enough to keep them from permanent damage.
But innovative research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and The Ohio State University College of Engineering is providing hope for these patients and has produced unprecedented recovery by “retraining” skin cells to grow as vascular cells and repair damage to this brain tissue.
“The thought was that once brain tissue dies, that was it,” said Dr. Shahid Nimjee, a neurosurgeon at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, a member of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute and co-author of the study. “We're now learning that there could be opportunities to regenerate cells to restore brain function.”
This research, published in Science Advances, uses a process created by Ohio State called tissue nano transfection (TNT) to introduce genetic material into cells. This process allows them to reprogram these cells into vascular cells which then repair the damage done to the brain during the stroke.
With limited impact on the patient recovering from the stroke, the researchers take a small biopsy of skin cells, grow them on the TNT device and reprogram the cells and essentially tell them what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to act once they are injected into the brain.
“We rewrite the genetic code of skin cells that tell them to become blood vessel cells,” said Daniel Gellego-Perez, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at The Ohio State University College of Medicine who is leading the research. “When they are deployed into the brain, they are able to grow new, healthy brain tissue to restore normal blood supply and repair damage.”
When this process was studied in mice, 90% of the mice regained their motor function and MRIs showed that the damaged brain tissue was fixed within weeks.
“We found that the mice have a higher recovery because the cells that are being injected into the affected area also release healing signals in the form of vesicles that help in the recovery of damaged brain tissue” said Natalia Higuita Castro, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and surgery at Ohio State and a co-lead author on the study.
As the research progresses, researchers are beginning to look outside the bounds of stroke patients for benefits of this technology. The retraining of cells to repair brain tissue can have real applications for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and Alzheimer’s.
“The potential of this technology is limitless,” Nimjee said.