According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US and one of the leading causes of adult disability. The death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen can result in, amongst other things, problems speaking, understanding speech and paralysis. Rehabilitation is a long, often lifetime, process, but researchers have found that a drug already used to treat certain conditions in humans can not only limit the effects of stroke, but also help repair the damage caused.

In a study involving rodents suffering stroke, researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that anti-inflammatory drug, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), which is already approved for use in humans for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, limits the death of existing brain cells as well as promoting the birth of new neurons. The team found that there was a reduction in brain damage in rodents treated with IL-1Ra in the early stages after a stroke, while increased numbers of new neurons were found several days after the treatment.

While stem cell treatments have shown promise in studies for patients suffering the effects of a stroke, attempts to uncover drugs that can prevent initial brain damage after stroke have proven unsuccessful. So the fact IL-1Ra also appears to help the brain repair itself by generating new brain cells, with rodents regaining motor skills that were initially lost after stroke, is obvious cause for hope.

The researchers say that several early stage clinical trials already completed in Manchester suggest IL-Ra could be beneficial for stroke patients, but that further large trials are needed.

The team's paper appears in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.