If you or someone you love have suffered a stroke and been forced into disability, a new breakthrough made by doctors at Tel Aviv University appears to offer hope for a "significant" level of recovery in the near future.
Clinical trials conducted by Dr. Shai Efrati found that sitting inside a pressurized chamber pumped full of oxygen-rich air, 90 minutes a day, five days a week for two months, caused the brains of post-stroke patients to exhibit fresh neurological activity in areas thought to be rendered useless.
It works by pumping up the blood oxygen level of stroke patients tenfold, researchers explained in a study published Wednesday by scientific journal PLoS One. Each of the patients selected for the trial had suffered a stroke within 36 months of the treatment, and all of them had at least one motor function impairment as a result.
"We found that the neurological functions and life quality of all patients in both groups were significantly improved following the HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen therapy) sessions" versus a control group who were forced to wait two months before undergoing the therapy, researchers wrote.
"It is now understood that many brain disorders are related to inefficient energy supply to the brain," Dr. Efrati explained in an advisory. "HBOT treatment could right such metabolic abnormalities before the onset of full dementia, where there is still potential for recovery."
There were some mild side effects, however: some patients reported having pain in their ears due to the pressurization. Two of the randomly selected patients with a history of seizures also "had mild episodes of convulsion," the study noted, although they all maintained consciousness.
A separate study published last September by PLoS One also claimed that brains might be able to be trained to survive strokes by forcing the steady acclimation to brief exposures to low pressure environments with low oxygen levels.
That environment triggered a medical condition called hypoxia in a set of test rats, depriving their organs of the minimum amount of oxygen needed to survive -- and amazingly their bodies responded by sprouting fresh capillaries throughout their brains, increasing oxygen levels by 30 percent once they were done with therapy and back in a normal pressure environment. Researchers then examined MRI scans of the rats that had adapted to hypoxia and found a 52 percent reduction in brain lesion volume
The Centers for Disease Control says that each year nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke, and about 130,000 die from it. Strokes are are also the leading cause of long-term disability among adults, and about 34 percent of those who suffer strokes are under 65 years old.
Taken together, these two discoveries point to a very hopeful future for stroke patients' chances of recovery.