During a stroke, like the one that felled Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, brain cells lose their blood supply and die from a lack of oxygen. But now brain researchers may have found a way to make stroke-damaged nerve cells re-grow. The technique might help alleviate the long, hard road of extensive therapy that stroke sufferers often face to regain lost speech and movement.
Neurologist Wendy Kartje, from the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago, blocked a natural brain protein, called Nogo-A, from binding to nerve cells in the stroke-damaged brains of rats. This allowed the nerve cells to grow new connections, and restored lost leg movement.
"We're getting very good functional recovery following this therapy," Kartje says.
The researchers trained aging rats—the equivalent of 70 or 80 years old in human terms—to perform highly skilled tasks, such as walking along the rungs of a ladder. A surgically-produced stroke left them with paralysis of their paws on one side.
The rats were up and running around in only nine weeks when they got the Nogo-blocking treatment as long as a week after their stroke. So, for people, the treatment may work even months after a stroke hits. For now, Kartje says testing of Nogo-A in people may still be years away.