Irish scientists are heading a pioneering global study into the blood clots which cause strokes. The study headed by neuroscientist Karen Doyle involves the examination of the thousands of stroke-causing blood clots collected from patients around the world.
These bundles of cells could carry a wealth of information, which could point to big improvements in people’s lives by advancing stroke prevention and treatment.
The research is captured in a compelling new documentary, A Tiny Spark, from the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices based at NUI Galway and Galway Film Centre.
Dr Doyle hopes the study which is being conducted with hospitals across Europe and the Mayo Clinic in the US could yield key information on how to treat patients when blood is blocked to their brain by a clot.
“Two million brain cells are lost per minute when the blood is blocked to the brain, the quicker that clot can be removed obviously the better”, said the neuroscientist from CÚRAM and Galway Neuroscience Centre in NUI Galway.
“Time is brain. No two clots are the same, their composition can vary quite considerably. We want to learn about the biology of these clots that might indicate that a person might be inclined towards having a stroke or might indicate the best way to treat that person after their stroke.”
The neuroscientist is hoping the research could lead to the development of preventive tests for strokes.
“The brain is probably the last frontier in terms of body part and understanding how they actually work. For a long time it was a bit of a black box. It’s really exciting to be involved where hopefully we will see really good results in the very short term. Then down the line, it may lead to predictive tests or diagnostic tests or may also lead to new treatments to prevent strokes in the first place,” she said.
About 8,000 to 10,000 people have strokes every year in Ireland.
“The vast majority of those are people over the age of 65 but actually about a quarter of all strokes happen in the younger age group, 65 and under,” she said.
The groundbreaking research is an international collaborative study between NUI Galway and Beaumont Hospital and other hospitals in Europe and the Mayo Clinic. Consultant neuro- radiologist in Beaumont, John Thornton, tells the documentary that time is the most important factor when it comes to treating patients with stroke.
“As soon as the patient knows, they have to get themselves to hospital as fast as possible,” he says.
While many patients are treated successfully with clot-busting drugs, doctors also used a procedure called thrombectomy to remove a blood clot in someone’s brain which has not dissolved with medication. It involves a doctor putting a thin tube into a patient’s artery, usually through their groin, and then feeding it up through their body to where the clot is in the brain. Once there, a wire mesh tube called a stent on the top of the tube is wrapped around the clot and it is then pulled out.