Medicine should reconsider how it treats stroke and other neurological disorders, focusing on the intrinsic abilities of the brain and nervous system to heal themselves rather than the “modest” benefits
of clot-busting drugs and other neuroprotective treatments.
Michael Chopp, Ph,D., internationally renowned stroke researcher and scientific director of the Neuroscience Institute at Henry Ford Hospital,
and Zhenggang Zhang,M.D., Ph.D., senior scientist at Henry Ford’s
Department of Neurology, make their case for the change in treatment
strategy in an editorial published online in Expert Opinion on
The co-authors argue that pharmacologically enhancing the brain’s own
restorative abilities could benefit not only stroke patients, but those
suffering other neurological damage or disease including traumatic
brain injury (TBI), multiple sclerosis (MS) and peripheral neuropathy –
nerve damage that afflicts the elderly, chemotherapy patients and
Central to their proposal is a new pharmacological agent developed by
Dr. Chopp and his colleagues, a synthetic version of a peptide that
occurs naturally in humans and other mammals called Thymosin beta-4.
“Pioneering animal studies at Henry Ford have shown Thymosin beta-4
is highly effective for the treatment of neurological diseases in part
by increasing the formation of protective myelin around nerve fibers in
the central and peripheral nervous systems,” says Dr. Chopp.
In their editorial, the authors first detail the limited
effectiveness of current standard drug therapy, using tissue plasminogen
activator (tPA), more commonly known as a “clot buster,” to treat
Offering stroke as an example, they cite research showing that only
about 5 percent of patients receive tPA, and of those only about 30
percent show significant improvements.
Similar conditions exist for nerve injury after TBI, MS and
peripheral neuropathy, the authors write, and for those patients “there
is a paucity of therapeutic options.”
Among tPA’s limitations is that it must be administered within a very
short time after stroke to prevent “cascades” of irreversible cell
In contrast, “restorative therapies” such as dosing with Thymosin
beta-4 “may be applied well after the onset of injury or the onset of
clinical symptoms for degenerative diseases” including stroke and
Says Dr. Chopp: “Rather than focusing on destroying clots or other
lesions leading to nerve damage, restorative therapies are designed to
‘remodel’ or rebuild the nervous system by stimulating self-healing
processes that already exist in the brain, spinal cord and the
peripheral nerves connected to them.”
“It is therefore time to reconsider how we think about treating neural injury and disease,” the authors contend.
Last year, Dr. Chopp was honored with the Abraham White Distinguished
Science Award for his discovery of the role of Thymosin beta-4 in the
treatment of brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases.