More Good News About Stroke Treatment and Prevention

Following up on a previous article (Hopeful Research on the Prevention and Treatment of Strokes), here is more information on the progress being made in the treatment and prevention of stroke, which kills more people worldwide every year than any other condition except heart disease.

Treatment using NA-1

A safety trial published in the medical journal Lancet Neurology helps to clear the path for the use of a chemical called NA-1 for the treatment of stroke. Previous studies in primates had indicated that administering NA-1 prevented the death of brain cells when deprived of oxygen (which happens during a stroke). The primary objective of this study was to test NA-1 for safety, and detect possible side effects it might have, and that objective was met – only two of the subjects in the study had any side effects, and they were deemed as mild. The 185 subjects were all having an operation to repair brain aneurysms, a weakening of the blood vessels that places them at greater risk of rupturing, and thus can lead to stroke. Half of the subjects were injected with NA-1, and the other half with an inert saline solution. The patients given NA-1 showed fewer instances of damaged brain tissue.

Study author Markku Kaste pointed out that previous trials of drugs to prevent cell death in stroke conditions had resulted in failure. But he points out that further research is needed, as does Dr. Peter Coleman of the Stroke Association, who said: “We welcome any treatment that could protect brain cells after a stroke and limit the amount of brain damage. This potential treatment appears promising, but a lot more research is needed.”

Treatments using nets to extract blood clots and stem cells

Two additional studies – one involving 113 patients and the other 178 patients – have shown that using tiny wire nets to remove blood clots are more effective than previously-used “clot buster” drugs. Researcher Jeffrey Saver of UCLA said, “Clot-busting drugs only partially reopen 40% of large blocked arteries. These devices partially reopen 70-90% of large blocked arteries.” Secondarily, these techniques can be used when treating patients who should not receive the clot-busting drugs, and can be utilized during the first 4.5 to 8 hours after the onset of the stroke, which the clot-busting drugs cannot. Dr. Philip Gorelick of Michigan State University says that these findings provide “major steps forward in the successful treatment of acute ischemic stroke, and pave the way for new treatment options.”

In another study performed in the west of Scotland, several stroke patients saw major reductions in limb weakness after having human stem cells injected close to damaged areas of their brains. The patients all had suffered significant limb weakness after suffering a stroke six months to five years earlier. Before treatment their assessment using the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale was an average of eight; after stem cell treatment, the score had fallen to four (lower is better). Further trials are needed, of course, but researchers are hopeful because of the results, and because none of the patients showed any evidence of harmful effects.

New research in the area of stroke prevention

A study in the journal BMJ Open found that a simple drawing test enabled doctors to accurately predict the risk of older men who have already experienced a stroke dying of a future one. In the test, which was administered to over 1,000 patients between the ages of 67 and 75, the men were asked to draw lines between numbers on a printed page, in ascending numerical order, as fast as they could. Over the course of the 14-year study, the men who scored in the lowest third were three times more likely to die from a future stroke than those who scored in the top third. The researchers theorized that the test enabled them to detect hidden damage to blood vessels in the absence of other signs or symptoms. They look upon the success of the test – which is simple and could be administered anywhere – as a very positive step in the direction of future stroke prevention, because it could help to pinpoint patients at higher risk of a future stroke, and thus take steps to prevent those strokes.

In a nutrition study conducted in Finland, researchers found that a diet high in tomatoes – which contain the beneficial compound lycopene – reduced patients’ risk of stroke by 55%. Study author Dr Jouni Karppisaid: “This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke.”

Finally – and possibly the best news of all for us chocaholics – a Swedish study of more than 37,000 men has found that those who ate the most chocolate were the least likely to have a stroke. The eating habits of these men with regard to their chocolate consumption were surveyed at the beginning of the study and then their stroke health was monitored for more than ten years. Researchers theorized that the antioxidant qualities of the flavonoids in chocolate may have lowered stroke risk, just as they lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease in previous studies. The researchers warn, however, that their results were found in men who ate moderate amounts of chocolate. Overdoing it will still make you fat, which introduces other risk factors for both stroke and heart disease.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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