Most strokes are caused by a blood clot in the brain that interrupts the flow of blood and delivery of oxygen to brain tissue, causing minor to severe damage, even death. A smaller percentage of strokes are caused by a rupture that causes bleeding in the brain. Regardless of the type of stroke, immediate medical attention is required to stem the tide of damage to the brain. There are many factors that can lead to a stroke, including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, diabetes and smoking, many of which can be managed through lifestyle choices. Current treatments for stroke aim to restore the flow of blood to the brain, such as clot-busting enzymes, surgery and drugs for thinning blood, stopping clots and protecting neurons.
Currently there are no Health Canada or FDA approved stem cell treatments available for stroke. Since an incident of stroke cannot be predicted, the kind of research involving stem cells to treat stroke centres around repair after a stroke has occurred. There are two main approaches: the first is to stimulate stem cells already in the body to repair damaged tissue and the second is to transplant specific stem cells directly to the site of injury in hopes that they will help stimulate repair. In both cases, more research to identify the best kind of stem cells to use, how and when to deliver them is necessary.