How a Stanford University researcher used Adult Stem Cells in a Stroke Treatment.

Adult Stem Cells Lead to “Miracle” Stroke Treatment

Stanford University researcher helps California woman realize her dreams

With the loss of ability to use her arms and legs, or speak normally, Sonia Coontz had almost given up.  Sonia had suffered a stroke and it changed her life forever. While common forms can include paralysis and impaired speech, stroke victims often find many unpleasant surprises along with it, such as partial or full blindness, headaches, loss of bladder control, and much worse. Sonia made the courageous decision to enter a clinical trial and undergo an adult stem cell transplant. Here’s here inspiring story.

Confined to a wheelchair and “trapped” in her own body, Sonia Coontz fell into a deep depression and wanted to end her own life.  Such is the impact a stroke can impose on its unwilling and unsuspecting victims.

But thanks to groundbreaking research and the remarkable regenerative power of adult stem cells, stroke patients like Sonia are now closer than ever to breaking the suffocating chains that come with a stroke.  Real hope—backed by real clinical results—is paving the path to a normal life for millions of people who struggle daily with the debilitating effects of stroke.

“My husband, a baby boy and life as a wife and mother—none of that would have been possible without my adult stem cell transplant,” says Sonia, of Long Beach, California.  “Some days I wake up and can hardly believe it myself.”

Like the nearly 800,000 Americans who suffer a stroke each year, Sonia was just 31-years-old and had no warning before falling victim to what’s called an “attack on the brain.”  A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain stops, starving that part of the brain for oxygen and damaging some of the nerves.  The result is that part of the body controlled by the injured portion of brain stops working.

Like so many of the roughly 7 million people in the United States who live with debilitating effects of stroke, the impact of Sonia’s stroke was devastating. 

“My husband, a baby boy and life as a wife and mother—none of that would have been possible without my adult stem cell transplant!”

— Sonia Coontz

“She had severe problems in terms of motor function, her strength,” explained Dr. Gary Steinberg, Chair of Neurosurgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Founder and Co-Director of the Stanford Stroke Center.  Steinberg is the researcher who initiated and led the adult stem cell clinical trial that eventually helped Sonia and other stroke patients.

“She could not move her right arm. She had severe difficulty walking. She had problems communicating. You couldn’t understand her. She couldn’t order food over the phone. Her walking was so impaired that she did not want to get married, because she felt she’d be embarrassed walking down the aisle.”

Dr. Steinberg and other scientists conducted a trial where adult stem cells from a donor were injected directly into areas of the brain near the area of her stroke.  The first goal that researchers hoped to achieve was finding the procedure safe.  Beyond all reasonable expectations—two full years after suffering her stroke–patients like Sonia showed substantial physical improvements within hours of the transplant.    

“All of a sudden my body just woke up,” recalls Sonia. 

She could lift her arm and move her leg in ways that had been previously impossible.  Her speech was stronger and clearer.  Rather than being largely confined to a wheelchair, she could walk on her own. 

In short, she experienced improvements that even the understated Dr. Steinberg described as a “miracle.” Aside from passing headaches after the surgery, no patients showed side effects that could be attributed to the stem cells.

“This was just a single trial, and a small one,” explains Dr. Steinberg. “We were stunned. It was very gratifying and satisfying, in many ways, but we don’t want to oversell this (adult) stem cell transplant. Right now there’s a lot of hype about stem cells. Remember, we’re at a very early stage.

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Safety and efficacy of multipotent adult progenitor cells in acute ischaemic stroke(MASTERS):randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 2 trial

Intravenous autologous bone marrow mononuclear cells for ischemic stroke

“We haven’t made it through phase 3 studies yet, which are the definitive large studies with controls that persuade the FDA to commercialize the stem cell transplant. It would be available to everyone. We’re moving through phase 2 studies and just starting phase 3 studies, with some different types of cells in this stroke disease.

It’s very exciting. I’ll say that. I think you know in the next decade we are going to see very exciting and impressive results from our stem cell transplants for neurologic diseases including stroke.  Including traumatic brain injury, which we’re doing also with adult stem cells.  Including spinal cord injury, which we’re treating with other types of stem cells. But we want to be cautious. We want to do this the right way.” 

As Dr. Steinberg and other researchers continue their work, the immediate impact of adult stem cell therapy is abundantly clear to Sonia.  After her adult stem cell transplant and recovery, she married her husband Peter and gave birth to their son Lucien.

A life that had been trapped due to a stroke is free.  The same possibilities for countless other stroke victims is now within sight.