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Two mice reach for a pinpoint object after receiving a therapeutic drug post-stroke. Photo: H. Abe et al., Science (2018)

A new drug compound can successfully speed up rehabilitation for animals recovering from stroke, according to research published in Science Thursday. If it works in humans, it could eventually extend the time for repairing some brain functions after injury.

The big picture: An estimated 1.7 million people suffer a traumatic brain injury in the U.S. every year and almost 800,000 of those are from a stroke. Strokes kill 140,000 people per year and are the leading cause of serious long-term disability, CDC says.

Background: A stroke happens when brain cells die because the blood supply is interrupted by a clot, or a blood vessel bursts from high blood pressure or an aneurysm. Within minutes, neurons are permanently damaged and they die and leave a "hole" in the brain. Not only is that specific area damaged but surrounding neurons can also be injured.

Acute therapy during those first few hours is key, but scientists are also looking for ways to boost the brain's plasticity in the days or months following a stroke. The study out today looks at one possibility: giving a compound that enhances motor function recovery when combined with rehabilitation therapy.

What they did: The team gave mice the compound edonerpic maleate orally one day after a stroke and started rehab three weeks later (imagine a mouse reaching for a small object). After they received positive results, the researchers conducted a similar experiment in monkeys. (Note: Some of the study authors include employees of Toyama Chemical Co., which owns rights to the edonerpic maleate compound and also helped fund the part of the experiment involving monkeys.)

What they found: The key to faster recovery was the three-part-combo — introduce the compound as soon as possible after the stroke, check that it binds to a specific protein called CRMP2, and begin rehab as soon as possible.

  • Study author Takuya Takahashi from the Yokohama City University in Japan tells Axios the treatment continued to work even a month later. Here is a video from their experiment.

Timing is key:  "We believe there is a 'window of time' (about 3 months) for plasticity to allow motor recovery, "Argye Elizabeth Hillis, neurology professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Axios.

"[It's] essential. Most recovery takes place through synaptic plasticity, so medications that enhance plasticity are likely to benefit. People currently recover to varying degrees, but stroke remains one of the most common causes of disability in adults."

Yes, but: The efficacy of the drug has not yet been tested in humans. Tadashi Isa from Kyoto University's School of Medicine says human testing will likely face challenges, including the fragility of the patients and possible side effects such as epilepsy.

What's next: Takahashi says they plan to start human clinical trials by early 2019.

Another approach: Institut für Physiologie's Simon Rumpel, who wrote an accompanying Perspective, tells Axios another therapy being tested now involves injecting stem cells into damaged tissue. However, he says this new study is "promising" because it is "targeting the core mechanism by which spontaneous recovery from brain damage is believed to occur."

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
8 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.

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