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Can immune cells boost recovery after stroke?

Dr Barry McColl, University of Edinburgh, is one of the recipients of new Brain Research UK project grants

Dr Barry McColl at the University of Edinburgh has been awarded Brain Research UK funding to take forward his research into the use of immune cells to aid brain repair after stroke.

This research is desperately needed. There are more than one million stroke survivors in the UK, more than half of whom have been left with a life-limiting disability as a result of the brain damage caused by their stroke.

We want to lift this enormous burden of disability by funding research that will ultimately enable us to repair the damage caused by stroke and other brain injury, to restore normal function and allow those affected to live productive, independent lives.

What is a stroke? 

Stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted, either by a blockage or a bleed. Without rapid treatment, the brain cells begin to die - with devastating consequences.

There are an estimated 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK today, more than half of whom have been left with a life-limiting disability. The nature and severity of the disability depends on the extent of the damage and the area of the brain affected, but may include limb weakness, impaired mobility, and problems with speech, balance and co-ordination.

Repairing the injured brain

One of our key research aims is to understand how to repair the damage caused by stroke and other forms of brain injury.

We know from previous research that the area of brain tissue around the injury can adapt and reorganise to compensate for lost function - a remarkable ability known as plasticity. This helps to explain how, with the help of rehabilitation, people can recover certain functions over time. Finding a treatment that can enhance plasticity will facilitate a faster, more complete recovery, reducing disability and maximising quality of life.

Earlier research has shown how a type of immune cell can enhance plasticity by creating favourable conditions for brain repair. Dr McColl's team has found a way to boost the function of these particular immune cells - known as macrophages - and our funding is now enabling them to take the next step forward in the development of this potential treatment.

How do we decide which research to fund? 

There are hundreds of neurological conditions. To maximise our impact, we are focusing our research funding on three priority areas: brain tumours, brain and spinal cord injury, and headache and facial pain. These are areas where there is a high level of patient need that is not reflected in current levels of research investment.  

Our funding for research in these areas is awarded under national, competitive schemes in which projects are selected through a process involving rigorous external peer review to identify the research that holds the greatest promise of achieving decisive results that will translate through to patient benefit.

Following careful consideration of Dr McColl's detailed research plans, the members of our Scientific Advisory Panel believe that his project is a crucial step in the development of a potential new treatment to boost brain repair in stroke survivors, and that it has a high chance of success. The research also has relevance beyond stroke to other types of brain damage including traumatic brain injury and dementia.

Read more: Dr Barry McColl - Using immune cells to boost brain repair after stroke

Can you help us to accelerate the progress of neurological research?

All of our research funding comes from voluntary donations. Every year we receive far more high quality research applications than we can fund. Help us fund more research to accelerate progress.