A new fish oil remedy may be the key to preventing brain damage after patients suffer from stroke.

Researchers from Columbia University and Louisiana State University in New York conducted experiments on mice showing that a fish-oil-based drug given within hours of a stroke can help damaged cells stay alive.

The existing drug used to prevent brain damage in stroke patients has to be given within four hours of a stroke. It breaks up blood clots that block oxygen flow to the brain, but does not keep suffocating cells from dying - which doesn't help patients who need several hours just to get to a hospital from recovering brain functions in the damaged areas.

If it works in humans in the same way, the fish oil drug might be given much later to keep damaged cells alive, which can help patients who don't get to a hospital quickly enough to prevent permanent brain damage.

The drug, a fluid rich in the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexanoic acid (DHA), uses several methods of keeping damaged cells alive, like turning on gene switches that produce protective proteins.

The researcher's work was published in PLOS One earlier this week, entitled "N-3 Fatty Acid Rich Triglyceride Emulsions Are Neuroprotective after Cerebral Hypoxic-Ischemic Injury in Neonatal Mice."

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for proper brain function, and necessary for nervous system developments. Mostly found in cold water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for a healthy diet and have strong anti-inflammatory effects.

DHA treatment has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of many inflammatory chronic diseases, like coronary heart disease, asthma, arthritis, and macular degeneration. This study showcases its potential benefit in stroke treatment.

"Stroke is a brain attack that each year kills 130,000 Americans," notes Dr. Nicolas Bazan of Louisiana State University, one of the authors of the study.

"Strokes can occur at any age, including in newborns, with long-term and devastating consequences. DHA is already widely consumed as a dietary supplement in the US, and from a therapeutic point of view, we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year, and stroke causes 1 in every 18 deaths. Stroke is also the single most common cause of long-term disability, and the costs of stroke in the United States were estimated to total nearly $74 billion in 2010.

The researchers hope to develop a drug testable on humans very soon, which would be delivered through an injection in the arm.