A new therapy for patients who have had cerebrovascular accidents
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The Health Science Research Centre (Centro de Investigação em Ciências da Saúde, CICS) of the Universidad de Beira Interior is researching a new therapy to repair the injuries of patients that have suffered cerebrovascular accidents. The researcher Raquel Ferreira has been awarded for this project one of the Medals of Honour of L'Oréal Portugal for Women in Science, a prestigious award that has partly financed the initiative.
“The therapy consists of using cells specialising in vascular repair of people who have had a cerebrovascular accident, treating them with nanoparticles containing retinoic acid, and then injecting them intravenously so that they migrate to the brain, to the area of the injury, and repair the blood vessels in an initial stage in such a way that the neuronal repair is efficient at a later stage”, the scientist explained to DiCYT.
After a stroke the patient releases into the bloodstream cells specialising in vascular repair so that they can migrate to the place where the injury has occurred. However, this endogenous repair mechanism is insufficient. For this reason the researchers propose the isolation of cells from the patient in a blood sample and treating them in vitro with the nanoparticles that can boost their effects.
To see whether this therapy works experiments will be carried out with an animal model to which a similar injury to that of the patient will be induced. In this way the effectiveness of the proposal will be checked. If it is shown to be efficient it can be implemented in patients in the future. For the moment the scientists have carried out an initial batch of in vitro tests, and as the results are positive cells will shortly be collected from the patients, treated, and injected into the animals.
The proposed therapy is minimally invasive and aims to reduce the hospital stay and improve the patient's recovery from brain damage. Up to now a possible therapeutic approach has been thrombolysis, which consists of injecting substances to dissolve the obstruction of the blood vessels and re-establish circulation, but this has to be applied during the hours immediately after the first symptoms and haemorrhaging may be a side effect. Another alternative is the placing of stents, but neither this method nor the previous one has a restorative effect.
Although cerebrovascular accidents are currently very common and constitute a major socioeconomic burden, “investment in this field of research is low and progress is slow”, Ferreira comments. For this reason the therapies “follow the traditional patterns of the application of thrombolytic agents”.
A safe therapy without side effects
If the new technique prospers “it will be safer and will have fewer side effects because we are making use of a restorative mechanism that occurs naturally in the patient”, the specialist declares. The technique is minimally invasive and avoids an immunological response because it uses the cells of the patient himself/herself.
Moreover, although the objective of this project is the study of the effectiveness of the proposal in ischaemic strokes, the scientists are confident that the progress achieved can be applied to other cardiovascular ailments.
The project was initiated last year and will continue until 2017; to develop it the research group is financed by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, FCT) together with the money of the L'Oréal prize. Moreover, it is hoped that additional financing will be achieved together with collaboration with Spanish researchers.