Sonia Olea could not move her right arm after surviving a stroke at age 32. Her right leg was also weak, and it was nearly impossible for her to speak, making even the simplest tasks difficult. The realization that her life would never be the same was devastating, and some days she even wished she was dead.
Sonia eventually worked through her depression, and she was determined to find some way to recover. That’s when Stanford University called and asked if she would participate in a stem cell clinical trial. It used to be thought that it was impossible to recover from a stroke after about three months. If things weren’t improving by then, nothing could be done to restore the damage.
The researchers in Sonia’s clinical trial, led by Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford School of Medicine, found that stem cells may provide molecules that can help repair damaged neurons. After Sonia’s surgery, where bone marrow stem cells were transplanted into her brain, the results were almost instant. When she awoke, she could move both her legs, speak, and even raise her right hand. She was one of two patients who responded so rapidly, and her condition continues to improve. She can walk, run, drive, and speak again, all things that she couldn’t have done before. The results were unheard of considering that Sonia’s stroke had occurred over a year before she had the procedure.
More researchers are exploring the uses of stem cells in stroke treatment, and the results seem very promising. Animal studies have also shown that stem cells can help mice and rats regain strength in their limbs after a stroke. To learn more about Sonia’s story and this exciting new research, click here to read the full article on the CIRM website.