New Zealand research has identified a new treatment which could unlock the paralysed limbs of stroke patients and one day help them regain up to 50% of their movement.
Otago University and US university UCLA's research, published in one of the world's leading scientific journals, Nature, reveals the potential of a known drug compound to reawaken dormant brain cells after a stroke.
Led by Dr Andrew Clarkson, the research has already proven effective on mice.
The mice were given the compound several days after a stroke, with the cells immediately reawakening.
"We were able to actually bring those cells, brain neurons, back online. We're actually able to see a 50% gain in function.
"There's a lot more neurons being born and these neurons are actually migrating to the stroke site," Clarkson said.
There is currently only one approved drug for stroke patients, but it needs to be administered a maximum of four hours after a stroke, and only restores 10-15% of function.
The New Zealand Centre for Brain Research's professor Alan Barber told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning it was this time restriction which proved a major obstacle.
"The only major medical therapy we've got is to restore the blood flow and we give clot-busting treatment. But the problem is you've got to get a patient to hospital, have a scan, get seen by the doctors, and get the treatment all within four and a half hours.
"Beyond that time, the risks of that treatment, which is bleeding, outweigh the benefits."
As a consequence, Barber said, only 5% of patients get treated with the therapy, leaving 95% to attempt to recuperate in stroke units.
"The bottom line is that about half the people who get a stroke are either dead or dependant on others for activities of daily living," he said.
The drug developed by Clarkson's team though does not appear to be time restricted, and could potentially work best if given several weeks later.
"It shows the idea that we can remove the brake on the stroke-affected side of the brain ... that's fantastic news," Barber said.
Around 8000 New Zealanders suffer from strokes each year. About 2000 of those are working age, he added.
"What this study has done, and what the genius part is, is that it's shown us that the proof of principle is there.
"It may take a few years to come but the potential benefits are huge," he said.
Indeed human trials remain in the distant future, with Clarkson saying they have been told it will be around another 12 months before they could take off and Barber saying it will be at least five years before the drug undergoes the necessary testing.
The compound has already been approved by the Food and Drug Association (FDA) in the US for use in an Alzheimer's trial, with high hopes it could also prove a turning point for brain injuries as well.