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A new treatment could be a game changer for people who have suffered a stroke and the first procedure completed in the United States happened right here at the Medical College of Georgia.

Stroke is the third leading cause of disability in the United States and Georgia and South Carolina have some of the highest stroke rates in the country.  

Right now, doctors at MCG are inserting stem cells into the brain to help patients regain functions lost due to stroke.

“If you’ve had a moderate or severe stroke, your life will be changed forever,” says Dr. Scott Rahimi, MCG endovascular neurosurgeon.

Dr. Rahimi is a Medical College of Georgia graduate, and the first surgeon in the United States to complete a new procedure for patients who have suffered a stroke.

“I don’t know what the final answer is going to be, but it’s exciting that we’re part of the process to see if it can help,” says Dr. Rahimi.

The people they are working with are those who have had the kind of stroke that causes brain damage due to lack of blood flow. The surgeons are using stem cells because those are the cells that have not yet been assigned a specific function in the body and have the ability to transform. Dr. Rahimi explains how stem cells can help stroke survivors.

“Once you destroy brain cells or they’re injured, there is no replacement… but the next phase is to see if these stem cells can regenerate tissue and function,” explains Dr. Rahimi.

Dr. Rahimi describes how they do the surgery that happened for the first time in the US last week.

“We pick targets where the patients have had a stroke and implant these stem cells using that technology to a very specific area,” he says.

The best case scenario is for the patient to regain some kind of function after the surgery. Examples of progress would be improvements to weakness on one side of the body, improvements to weakness in the face or improvements to the patient’s speech.

Doctors perform this procedure 6 to 12 months after the stroke once the brain has most of what it can to heal itself, but cannot do anymore.

“There are some stem cell trials with IV or initially treat the patient up front, but as far as patient’s who’ve had a stroke, who are devastated, have lost function, there’s really not much available besides some medical therapy with physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy,” Dr. Rahimi points out.  

Previous trials in the UK proved to help patients regain function.

“The applications are just enormous,” says Dr. Rahimi. “If this works in this scenario we can do the same thing for trauma patient… spinal cord injuries. It’s amazing to me that this is even possible.”

There are lifestyle choices you can make to help avoid a stroke. Dr. Rahimi says you should see a doctor regularly for things like blood work and physicals so that you can detect some of the signs that could lead to stroke.