In a pioneering study, neurosurgeons have successfully initiated the regrowth of lost brain tissue through brain bypass surgery in patients who have suffered from strokes.In cases where blood flow to the brain is impaired due to diseased blood vessels, patients tend to show a progressive loss in brain tissue.  This tissue, the grey matter of the brain, is believed to be linked with neurocognitive functions such as perception, memory, awareness and capacity for judgment.

Previous studies have indicated that loss of grey matter can decrease these thinking capabilities as well as hasten the onset of dementia.

The neurosurgeons at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at the Toronto Western Hospital, performed brain bypass surgery on 29 stroke patients, aimed at restoring blood flow to the brain.  Approximately 11 months after surgery, they saw a 5.1 percent increase in the thickness of the brain tissue on MRI scans.

“We were pretty astounded when we saw the results because they were quite unexpected,” said Dr. Tymianski, neurosurgeon at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre specializing in neurovascular diseases, Director of the Neurovascular Therapeutics Program at the University Health Network and senior scientist at the Toronto Western Research Institute, in a press release. “Our goal with the surgery was to halt further loss of brain tissue due to strokes, so it was remarkable to see the loss was actually reversed.”

Researchers say this is the first surgical treatment which has been shown to successfully restore lost brain tissue.

“The re-growth of brain tissue has only been observed in an extremely limited number of circumstances,” said Dr. Tymianski. “We consider this so important because one of the most important health issues facing our population is chronic cerebrovascular disease, which leads to neurocognitive impairment and reduces quality of life.”

The study was published in the journal Stroke.