October 2008 Issue
Waging War Against Strokes
The statistics are sobering: Stroke is the third-largest cause of death in the United States, killing an average of 150,000 people every year and afflicting more than 600,000 people annually.
Researchers at The Ohio State University Medical Center are working to develop new ways to treat patients, which over the past several years have included studies with bat venom and, most recently, looking at ways to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from treatment.
“Two decades ago, there wasn’t any treatment available for stroke patients,” he says. “Following a landmark study using tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) in stroke patients in the mid-1990s, there’s been a drug that’s available for improving outcome.”
The frustration, Slivka adds, lies in the fact that the drug must be administered within a three-hour window of the onset of symptoms. Strokes occur when a blood vessel supplying the brain with oxygen and nutrients is obstructed by a blood clot. Without these essential elements, nerve cells quickly die, resulting in the loss of function of the part of the body they control.
Since many stroke victims do not get to the hospital emergency room during that time frame, they do not benefit from tPA treatment.
Two years ago, the OSU Medical Center, along with other centers worldwide, evaluated the potency of the medication desmoteplase, found in bat saliva, to determine if treatment time could be extended.
“Although the patients who received a higher dose of desmoteplase in smaller preliminary studies had a better clinical outcome,” Slivka says, “the drug was not effective in the larger trial.” The reason, he adds, could be that many study participants were not suffering from occlusions at the time of treatment.
Ohio State researchers and others are studying Magnetic Resonance Imaging as a potential screen to determine who may benefit from treatment after three hours from the onset of a stroke.
In the meantime, Slivka encourages the public to learn the warning signs of stroke: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden difficulty walking, bouts of dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.
“Strokes happen so often,” he adds, “yet there is a high percentage of people who do not know even one of the warning signs.” ––Linda Feagler