Research points to possible new stroke therapy

21 Aug 2007

New research from an international team of scientists has identified a possible new therapy for stroke that is likely to be more effective than current treatments. 

The team found that administering immunoglobulin directly into the veins via intravenous injection protected brain cells against the effects of stroke. 

Immunoglobulin is a class of protein manufactured by the blood to fight off foreign substances in the body. 

Professor David Fairlie, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, said that a stroke reduced the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, causing tissue death. 

“But intravenous immunoglobulin treatment reduced the amount of dead tissue in the brain by 50 to 60 per cent. This finding seriously raises the prospect of using intravenous immunoglobulin treatment as an interventional therapy for stroke.” 

Professor Fairlie is the only scientist on the team currently working in Australia. The first author of the paper, Dr Thiruma Arumugam, received his PhD from The University of Queensland, and is now working in the U.S.A. 

Current management of stroke consists mainly of prevention and reducing the risk factors associated with stroke, such as elevated blood pressure, thrombosis and thickening of the main artery that supplies blood to the brain. 

“Once someone has actually had a stroke, therapy is limited to administering an enzyme designed to break down blood clots,” Professor Fairlie said. 

“However this enzyme must be given to the patient within three hours of the stroke, otherwise it increases the risk of excessive bleeding, leading to another stroke.” 

Intravenous immunoglobulin treatment does not have this side effect, and the team has suggested clinical trials be considered to further evaluate the use of the treatment in stroke patients. Clinical trials typically take several years to complete. 

Stroke is one of the three leading causes of death worldwide, and the most frequent cause of permanent disability. 

The findings of the team will be published on Tuesday August 21, AEST 7am in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.