Stroke survivors needed for study on stem-cell therapies

Monday, 5 December 2016

Are stroke survivors who are dissatisfied with the treatments available in Australia at risk of travelling overseas for untested and potentially unsafe stem-cell treatments?

This is the question being asked by a new national study led by the University of Adelaide, in the hope of better understanding people's attitudes to such therapies and their experiences with local health care.

"Whether stem-cell injections are a safe and effective treatment for stroke remains uncertain. But Australian stroke survivors are among the many patients worldwide who travel to countries, including China, India and Mexico, seeking these treatments in the hope of a cure," says PhD student David Unsworth, from the University's School of Psychology.

"Not only does this place them at risk of further medical complications, the financial and emotional costs that are incurred are typically significant. Furthermore, patients who receive these treatments overseas are then ineligible to take part in any research trials back home."

As part of his PhD, Mr Unsworth has co-authored a review focusing on the risks and benefits of cell therapies for stroke, which was recently published in the journal Regenerative Medicine.

In a new nationwide research project, Mr Unsworth, under the supervision of Professors Jane Mathias, Simon Koblar and Dr Diana Dorstyn, is asking: what do stroke survivors really know about stem-cell therapies? What drives them to seek out these experimental treatments? And what do they think of the treatments and services available to them here in Australia?

"By understanding what stroke survivors know about stem-cell therapies, and the reasons why they may seek treatment from unregulated, overseas clinics, we hope to better inform patients and their families about the potential risks involved," Mr Unsworth says.

"In addition, by asking stroke survivors about their experiences in Australian hospitals and rehabilitation centres, we may improve the overall level of stroke care in Australia."

Adelaide stroke survivor Saran Chamberlain had to learn to walk again after suffering a stroke in her late 30s. She still has no feeling in her left hand, little movement in her left arm, and lacks sensation on the left side of her face.

While Saran has been happy with her treatments so far, she says: "I will try anything that may help".

"I have heard that stem-cell treatments can help the brain wake up and that it can also help with pain. I’ve not looked in detail about it but I would certainly consider it," she says.

"I must admit that I'm very excited about the potential benefits of stem-cell therapy, in that one of the benefits could be firing up the brain to get part of the body to move, in my case my hand. In turn though, I'm also conscious of the possible risks associated with it. I’m more excited about it, though."

Stroke survivors from across Australia are encouraged to take part in an online survey:


Contact Details

David Unsworth
PhD student
School of Psychology
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: +61 (0)432 143 099

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762