Researchers at University of California, Irvine, have found that a protein naturally occurring in humans restores motor function in rats after a stroke. Administered directly to the brain, the protein restores 99 percent of lost movement; if it’s given through the nose, 70 percent of lost movement is regained. Untreated rats improve by only 30 percent.
Presently no drugs exist that will help a stroke after a few days. Medical experts noted that the findings offer optimism that there may be therapies that can repair damage to a significant degree long after the stroke. The studies chronicle the success of a small protein called transforming growth factor alpha, which plays critical tissue-forming and developmental roles in humans from just after conception through birth and into old age.
Each year about 600,000 Americans have their first stroke according to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance. “Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the country,” explains Jesse Slome, executive director of the non-profit organization. “Most people survive but the financial and emotional costs can be devastating to families.”
TGF alpha has been studied for two decades in other organ systems but never before has been shown to reverse the symptoms of a stroke. No lasting side effects were observed.
When put inside a cylinder, healthy rats will jump up with both front legs, but stroke-impaired rats will use just one leg, favoring the injured side. When given a choice of directions to walk, impaired rats will move toward their good side.
One month after the study rats suffered an induced stroke (equal to about a year for humans), some were injected with TGF alpha. Within a month, they had regained nearly all their motor function, hopping up with both legs in the cylinder exercise and not favoring a side in the directional test. Rats that did not receive treatment improved just 30 percent.