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Researcher Awarded First NIH `Brain Remodeling` Grant

Posted on: 12/27/2003

Researcher Awarded First NIH 'Brain Remodeling' Grant

A Henry Ford Hospital researcher has been awarded the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant aimed at developing therapies to "remodel brains" injured from stroke and other brain traumas.

The $6.5 million, five year Program Project grant, awarded to Michael Chopp, Ph.D., scientific director of the Neuroscience Institute at Henry Ford Hospital, is for further development of cellular and drug therapies that restructure the brain to help people recover from traumas such as stroke or head injuries.

The multifaceted study will primarily focus on the treatment of stroke and traumatic brain injury with cells derived from the adult bone marrow. These cells essentially restore neurological function after stroke and brain injury. The mechanisms responsible for this highly effective therapy will be investigated.

In addition, resources from the grant will be used to develop and implement new forms of cell and drug therapies to restore neurological function after stroke and brain trauma.

Dr. Chopp is one of a handful of researchers in the country currently working on an area known as brain remodeling. He develops and tests different cell-based therapies as well as compounds that may generate new brain cells in animals and improve function after neural injury and stroke.

In addition, neurologists at Henry Ford Hospital using data generated by Dr. Chopp and colleagues are expected to launch human studies soon using pharmaceutical agents (sildenafil-Viagra and statins) to help stroke victims. Patients identified with ischemic stroke will be eligible for these research trials.

"The laboratory studies strongly suggest that we will someday successfully treat patients days or even weeks after they have suffered a stroke," said Dr. Chopp.

Each year about 750,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke attack and it is the nation's third leading cause of death, ranking behind diseases of the heart and all forms of cancer.

Currently, tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) is the only treatment for ischemic stroke -- the cause of more than 80 percent of all strokes -- approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But the clot-dissolving drug must be administered within three hours of initial stroke symptoms for effectiveness. In addition, t-PA treatment reaches only 1 to 2 percent of Americans.

Among the reasons for the low use rate are that: while the general public is familiar with the warning signs of a heart attack, one-third cannot name one warning sign of stroke; the average time that elapses before a stroke patient goes to a hospital after experiencing initial symptoms for a stroke is 12 hours; and there are a shortage of hospitals with the comprehensive resources to rapidly assess and treat stroke victims.

Dr. Chopp has focused on the development of therapies to restore function after neuro-injury and neuro-degenerative disease.

His team has used cellular and pharmacological therapies with laboratory animal models (rodents) to successfully treat stroke, head trauma, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, and is developing therapies for other neurological diseases such as brain cancer.

These cellular and/or pharmacological therapies do not resurrect injured or dead brain tissue but instigate growth of new brain cells, new blood vessels, and new electrical connections in tissue near the site of injury or disease. In this way, these therapies work to remodel the brain or spinal cord to take on the functions that have been lost by the injured or dead tissue.

"Think of the brain as a house," says Dr. Chopp. "If a tree falls on your house, what you want most is to fix the damage to restore your daily quality of life. Remodeling the brain, like remodeling a house, may require new plumbing, such as new blood vessels; new electrical connections or new synapses; and new rooms or new brain cells in order to regain function."

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