New research shows promise of human amniotic cells for stroke patients

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Research led by La Trobe University has found that injecting human amniotic cells discarded after birth into stroke patients can significantly reduce brain injury and aid recovery.

Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. Treatments are time critical and currently only a limited number of Australians have access. Some of the most recent advancements in ischemic stroke treatment – strokes caused by a clot – can only be delivered within the first few hours of a stroke.

The seven-year research project led by La Trobe’s Professor Chris Sobey and with researchers from Monash University and Monash Health found that when human amnion epithelial cells – the cells lining the human amniotic sac during pregnancy and discarded after birth – were injected after stroke, impact was less severe and recovery was significantly improved.

“If we administered human amnion epithelial cells 90 minutes after stroke, the cells quickly homed in on the affected area of the brain, greatly reducing inflammation and nerve cell death,” Professor Sobey said.

“But what is particularly exciting about these new findings is that when the amniotic cells were administered as late as one or three days after stroke, there was accelerated healing and long term functional recovery was still greatly improved.”

Professor Sobey explained why human amnion epithelial cells were particularly effective in cell therapy.

“These cells are abundant, they are discarded after birth and they don’t require any treatment before being used,” said Professor Sobey.

“They already contain natural immune-suppressants which means the patient’s body won’t reject them and they don’t form tumours – both issues with other forms of cell therapy.”

A Monash Health team led by Director of Neurology at Monash Health and Associate Professor at Monash University, Dr Henry Ma, will soon commence a first-in-human trial in acute stroke patients to assess its feasibility and safety profile.

“The trial will be a great opportunity to translate this exciting research finding into clinical practice which may benefit stroke patients in the future,” said Dr Ma.

The research was part-funded by the Heart Foundation, CASS Foundation and National Health and Medical Research Council.