Researchers at the Tel Aviv University have reported successful results in healing victims of strokes with a new type of treatment called ‘hyperbaric oxygen therapy’. According to the World Health Organization, globally, 15 million people have a stroke every year and out of these, five million die while another 5 million become disabled. Strokes are also the leading cause of death and disability within the United States. While three quarters of the people who suffer from strokes are over the age of 65, people can have a stroke at any age. The leading cause of having a stroke remains high blood pressure, although smoking can also cause one to have a stroke. Given these facts, any treatment discovered to help people who suffer strokes is an important contribution to humanity.

Dr. Shai Efrati of Tel Aviv University has come up with the theory that high levels of oxygen have the potential to reinvigorate brain tissues that are damaged when a person suffers a stroke, even years after the stroke has occurred. This theory of his prompted him to work with Prof. Eshel Ben Jacob, who also works at Tel Aviv University, to come up with a hyperbaric oxygen therapy to assist patients whose condition failed to improve after suffering a stroke. This same treatment has been used for scuba divers to recover from bends.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy involves placing a patient in a room with higher than normal air pressure, from where higher levels of oxygen will be utilized in order to fix brain cells that had been damaged during the stroke. When this new therapy was put to the test, the 59 patients who partook in the study showed differing levels of improvement, yet some of the patients got significantly better after undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. For example, according to the researchers, one 61-year-old woman who was completely dysfunctional prior to this therapy essentially was able to return to having a normal routine following the therapy, which gave her back her normal life.

Side-effects suffered by the patients also were very minimal. Six of the patients suffered from ear problems following the treatment, while two patients who had epilepsy had some problems. The study also demonstrated that the improvement that patients felt following undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy withstood the test of time; there was no regression after two years. As Prof. Efrati stated, “The rationale is that once the damaged brain area has been reactivated, there is no going backward unless there is another insult.”

According to Professor Ben Jacob, “The findings challenge the leading paradigm since they demonstrate beyond any doubt that neuroplasticity can still be activated for months and years after acute brain injury, thus revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic into adulthood.” Dr. Efrati added that this study has opened “the gate into a new territory of treatment.”

While this therapy focused on people who suffered from strokes, the Tel Aviv University has claimed that this therapy also could potentially help people with other disorders such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in the earlier phases. As Dr. Efrati stated, “It is now understood that many brain disorders are related to inefficient energy supply to the brain. HBOT treatment could right such metabolic abnormalities before the onset of full dementia, where there is still potential for recovery.”

By Rachel Avraham