National study will use adult stem cells to treat stroke

Image with caption: Pierre Fayad, M.D.
Pierre Fayad, M.D.
UNMC has been selected as one of 11 medical centers in the country participating in a novel study using adult stem cells as a treatment for stroke patients.

The treatment -- called MultiStem® and manufactured by Athersys, Inc. -- uses a collection of stem cells derived from a bone marrow aspirate taken from a single adult donor. Using special technology, the cells have been multiplied to allow for easy availability and immediate usage.

Pierre Fayad, M.D., the Reynolds Professor of the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences and director of The Nebraska Medical Center Stroke Center, will serve as principal investigator for UNMC's portion of the study.

"Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in adults with very limited treatment options," Dr. Fayad said. "We're excited to be selected as one of the centers for this study. It will allow us to offer our patients a completely new approach to treating stroke."

The study is being conducted nationwide through leading stroke centers across the country.

"Stroke causes inflammation in the brain. If you can block the inflammation, you may improve the patient outcome."

Pierre Fayad, M.D.

UNMC will be responsible for enrolling between six and 10 patients over approximately the next 18 months, Dr. Fayad said.

For information on patient eligibility for the study, see sidebar.

The study is a double blind, placebo controlled Phase II clinical trial. The purpose of the Phase II study will be to determine the safety and tolerability of MultiStem®. In tests on rodents that have undergone an experimentally induced stroke, one treatment of MultiStem® produced significant improvement in motor skills and reduced inflammatory damage in the brain without causing any serious side effects.

"Stroke causes inflammation in the brain," Dr. Fayad said. "If you can block the inflammation, you may improve the patient outcome. This is a novel way of modifying the body's response to inflammation when someone has a stroke, without taking apparently significant risks. The cells have a significant effect on the immune system's reactions that are not attainable with existing pharmaceuticals."

When someone has a stroke, the person's spleen shrinks as inflammatory cells migrate to the site of the stroke. In rodents treated with MultiStem® following a stroke, the spleen size remained normal and increased levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines were found in the blood.


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UNMC Today Editor
July 29, 2013 at 2:05 PM

In response to the question below: UNMC annually has an average of over 700 patients with stroke, TIA, or cerebrovascular disease every year.

Bill Janke
July 27, 2013 at 9:27 AM

Hi, Tom, a very informative article. How many patients with ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are treated annually at UNMC? Thanks!

Patient eligibility

To be eligible for the study, patients must have:
  • incurred a significant ischemic stroke (caused by a blockage in blood flow to the brain) within 36 hours before receiving MultiStem treatment; and
  • deficits resulting from the stroke that are not at the extremes of severity and measurable through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Participants meeting these criteria will be given either a placebo or MultiStem®. They will not know what they are given; neither will the treating physician. The treatment will be infused intravenously over the course of a couple of hours.

Currently, the only FDA-approved drug available for ischemic stroke is the clot-buster, tPA, which must be administered through the veins within four and a half hours of the onset of the stroke. Because of this limited window of time, it’s estimated that less than 5 percent of ischemic stroke victims are generally treated with tPA.

Even if a person is treated with tPA, Dr. Fayad said they could still be eligible to participate in the MultiStem® clinical trial.

He said stroke patients being treated at The Nebraska Medical Center will be evaluated to make sure they meet the study criteria. If they do, they will then be given the opportunity to participate in the study. Participation is completely voluntary.

Study participants will incur no cost and will be followed for one year. They will receive another MRI 30 days after their stroke.

For more information on clinical trials at UNMC, contact the Research Subject Advocate Office at 402-559-6941.