The news release summarizes a study on whether a gel — introduced into stroke-damaged areas of mouse brains — can stimulate the regrowth of neurons and blood vessels.
The findings suggest that it can. But that’s a far cry from proving that this regrowth can function as normal brain tissue and, therefore, be “stroke-healing” in humans. Still, the news release is one of the better releases we’ve seen in terms of making it clear that the study was in mice. Mice is referenced in the headline and throughout.
Compared to many news releases we review that have to do with rodent research, this one was also more cautious with its language than most. A more substantial discussion of the harms and benefits of this experimental treatment would have made the release even stronger.
This study is part of a growing body of research called “stroke neural repair,” referring to the replacement of brain tissue damaged by a lack of blood flow, with new brain tissue.
Although stroke is declining as a cause of death in the US, the fact that mortality from stroke is declining faster than the incidence, means we’re likely to see an increase in the number of people who become chronically disabled from the disease. That’s why there’s such intense interest in repairing brain tissue damaged from stroke.
As further headway is made in this important area of research, some key questions for journalists and readers will be: is the new growth really functioning brain tissue? If so, how do we know it’s truly functional? And ultimately, the most difficult question of all, can it work in an integrated way with the rest of the brain?
The featured treatment is a gel in developmental phase. The price is likely unknown, and not including it seems reasonable.
The news release mentions:
“After 16 weeks, stroke cavities in mice contained regenerated brain tissue, including new neural networks — a result that had not been seen before. The mice with new neurons showed improved motor behavior, though the exact mechanism wasn’t clear.”
Although we appreciate the inclusion of the caveat that the gel’s mechanism of action is unclear, we’re not given any sense of just how much of an improvement in the motor skills of the mice was observed. And can it actually be attributed to the new growth?
Harms are not mentioned and are relevant.
The gel is a foreign substance being introduced into the brain. Did it trigger any kinds of reaction in the surrounding normal tissue? Did it cause any systemic symptoms?
The news release provides only the briefest synopsis of the study protocol. It mentions the gel provides a scaffolding to support the regrowth of brain tissue and blood vessels. Then it’s implied these tissues are functional since the mice with regrowth “showed improved motor behavior.”
But we’re given no data or insights into the significance of either the regrowth or the observed motor changes.
Likewise, were the regenerated brain tissue and blood vessels normal? Functional?
There’s just not enough evidence to justify the moniker “a new stroke-healing gel.”
There’s no disease mongering here. The release also adds context by stating how many Americans are living with the outcomes of stroke.
Funding is listed as from the NIH. The authors stated they had no financial conflicts of interest.
The release doesn’t discuss any of the current treatments available to patients injured by stroke. Nor does it mention any other related techniques currently under investigation.
It’s made fairly clear that the gel used in this study was developed by the authors, is experimental, and most likely not available for widespread use.
Although we’re told this is a “first-of-its-kind finding,” and the treatment is a “new” stroke-healing gel, readers may have benefited from learning how this approach compares to other, related techniques currently under investigation.
A quick search of ongoing research in this area reveals several things are being tried including drugs, growth factors, monoclonal antibodies, stem cells, and even brain stimulation techniques.
With one glaring exception, this is a strong point of the news release.
It’s made quite clear this is research in mice that is not currently applicable to humans. Unjustified cause-and-effect language is not used.
The exception? Use of the term “stroke-healing gel.” The gel would only be truly “stroke-healing” if it resulted in the damaged area fully reverting to it’s original, pre-stroke level of functioning.