Public Release: 

Transplanted stem cells restore function in stroke

University of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--Researchers at the University of Minnesota department of neurosurgery and Stem Cell Institute (SCI) have demonstrated the ability of transplanted adult stem cells to restore function in laboratory animals with stroke. Stem cells were isolated and expanded from human bone marrow and transplanted into laboratory rats seven days after an ischemic stroke injury to the brain. Before transplantation, rats were unable to properly use forelimbs and hind limbs. Weeks after receiving stem cell transplants, the animals regained proper use of their limbs. The study is reported in the March 2002 issue of Experimental Neurology.

Walter Low, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery, was the principal investigator for the study. Other investigators were Li-Ru Zhao, M.D., a research associate in the department of neurosurgery, Catherine Verfaillie, M.D., director of the Stem Cell Institute, and Morayma Reyes, a medical and doctoral student in the Medical School.

Previous studies from these investigators demonstrated that adult stem cells isolated from human bone marrow could be induced to differentiate into different types of cells when grown in tissue culture. In the present study, the transplanted stem cells were found to develop into cells that exhibited the characteristics of neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendroglia, the major types of cells found within the brain. These findings suggest that stem cells obtained from adult bone marrow may be useful as a source of cells to repair the brain and restore function in patients who have suffered a stroke.

"The ability of bone marrow stem cells to differentiate into cells that are typically found in the brain and restore function in laboratory animals with stroke holds promise for people who have experienced a stroke," said Low. "However, there are many additional studies on these stem cells that need to be conducted before we can consider initiating any clinical trial.

"The next steps in this research will be to determine how long after a stroke stem cell transplant therapy will be effective. Can stem cells be transplanted one, two, six or 12 months after a stroke and still restore function? Another important question that still needs to be addressed for this research is whether bone marrow stem cells maintain a stable neural phenotype over prolonged periods after transplantation."

Verfaillie and her colleagues announced late last year that these cells, called multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs), demonstrate the potential to differentiate beyond mesenchymal cells, into cells of the visceral mesodermal origin, such as endothelium, and may be capable of differentiating into nonmesodermal cell types, such as neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and liver.


The objective of the Stem Cell Institute is to further our understanding of the potential of stem cells to improve human and animal health. The SCI is a part of the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center and is an interdisciplinary center with member faculty representing a diverse group of University schools, colleges and centers. For online information about the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute, go to


Sarah Youngerman, Academic Health Center, (612) 624-4604 (for Walter Low)

Deane Morrison, University News Service, (612) 624-2346

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