Stem cells could soon treat after effects of stroke

- Three years ago, 54-year-old Robert Kruppa's life changed. A clot traveling from his legs to his brain caused him to have a massive stroke. 

"I got up, the left leg gave out, and I landed on the floor and couldn't get up," he explained.

A helicopter flew Kruppa to Tampa General Hospital where the clot was removed, but it was only the beginning of his recovery. 

He faced months of physical therapy, and he still has trouble moving his arm and leg. 

Tremendous progress has been made to treat strokes when they happen, but USF neurologist Dr. William Scott Burgin says there isn't anything out there to treat its disabling effects.

"What we haven't done is taken the next step in coming up with ways to help people once they have had the stroke," he explained.

Dr. Burgin hopes a new clinical trial using stem cell transplants will change the way we see recovery from a stroke.

The study will use a method already put into practice in a smaller trial at Stanford University last year.

Doctors make an incision in the scalp and the stem cells are implanted deep within the core of where a stroke injury was. 

Researchers collect the stem cells from the bone marrow of young, healthy volunteers. The idea is to re-program cells to make chemicals that stimulate nerve growth and repair.

It will take years to find out if the treatment works, but these early studies are promising.

"They've been very encouraging. That's why we're so enthusiastic about this. Finally we've got a suggestion that this may be actually effective in the real world for people and in an effort to try and restore damaged brain," Dr. Burgin said.

Robert Kruppa is now being screened to see if he qualifies for the study, but in order for any study to be scientifically accurate, there has to be a control group. That means, even if Kruppa qualifies, he could be part of that placebo surgery group who does not get the stem cells. He's willing to risk that.  

"It's a chance, you know, but I'm a science teacher, so to me it's kind of exciting to be part of something like that," Kruppa said.

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