New protein may improve stroke patients' chances
July 26, 1999
Web posted at: 5:59 PM EDT (2159 GMT)
By Steven Finch
(WebMD) -- Stroke victims could benefit from a new treatment that is showing promise in mice, researchers have found.
The study, published in this week's journal Science, showed that a modified protein could shield stroke victims from crippling neurological damage, which occurs when nerve cells become inflamed during a stroke.
The protein can intercept this response and protect the brain from damage, said Dr. David Pinsky, one of the study authors and professor at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Stroke is the country's third largest cause of death and the leading cause of severe disabilities, according to the American Heart Association. The most common type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain is blocked by a blood clot that has traveled from elsewhere in the body, such as a diseased artery in the neck.
Helping other drugs work
The study results showed that the treatment protein helps to restore blood flow in mice after a stroke's onset, reducing the amount of damage done to the brain.
This finding fills a new niche in the treatment of strokes, Pinsky said. Current therapies focus on removing clots surgically or, when possible, dissolving them with a drug, which is effective only if given within three hours of the stroke's onset. However, stroke victims typically require a battery of tests to determine the cause, location and extent of their injury. This results in an average delay of more than two and a half hours between the first sign of stroke and treatment.
With more research, the protein could expand the time that existing clot-busting drugs and other medications would be effective, he said.
The treatment protein buys time for stroke victims by limiting the amount of another protein that causes the nerves to become inflamed. Nerve cells in the brain normally secrete this inflammatory protein during a stroke, which touches off a series of events leading to brain damage, Pinsky said. The new treatment protein would prevent damage by blocking the inflammatory events from occurring.
When researchers injected the treatment protein into mice, in whom scientists had simulated stroke, the treatment protein fought off the damage due to inflammation and greatly reduced the number of blood clots, which usually form in the brain after stroke. "Once a nerve cell in the core has died, we can't do anything to bring it back to life," Pinsky said. "What we're really trying to do in any stroke therapy is to save those [nerve cells] ... that are at risk."
More research required
The results of the study may help the growing aging population in which stroke is becoming a major problem, said Dr. Pankaj Ganguly, a leading authority on stroke and director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
"There aren't too many treatments available," he said. "If this should pan out, it could be very, very beneficial as a conjunctive therapy."
Ganguly emphasized that because the study was done in mice, the treatment protein's effectiveness in humans is still yet to be seen.
Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
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