Ottawa researchers take aim at 'untreatable' strokes with new clinical trial

·3 min read
Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi spoke about his upcoming clinical trial during the University of Ottawa's Brain Health Awareness Week.  (Submitted by Dar Dowlatshahi - image credit)
Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi spoke about his upcoming clinical trial during the University of Ottawa's Brain Health Awareness Week. (Submitted by Dar Dowlatshahi - image credit)

Ottawa stroke researchers have pushed the limits of care for patients all around the world and they continue to do so, but that's not widely known in the city, according to one expert who wants to spread the word.

For that reason, the University of Ottawa's annual Brain Health Awareness Week, which wrapped on Friday, aims to showcase some of the innovative science coming out of the nation's capital.

Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi, a stroke neurologist with The Ottawa Hospital, spoke on a panel about a clinical trial he's about to begin, which will attempt to stop the effects of a brain bleed, also called a cerebral hemorrhage.

"I think [it's] the usual Ottawa phenomena where we have excellence and greatness in our own backyard, but we always think there's something better elsewhere," he told Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Dowlatshahi says every medium- or large-sized city has researchers that are often internationally known but not locally known.

"When you go home, you go home, you don't knock on your neighbour's door and say, 'guess what I discovered today?' That's for the conferences and the meetings," he said.

Standard stroke treatment developed in Ottawa

A standard treatment around the world for clotting strokes was developed in Ottawa and he's hoping to build on that work.

"One of the biggest landmark trials in the world called the ESCAPE study was conceived in the [ByWard] Market in Ottawa around the dinner table by about four or five of us chatting," Dowlatshahi said.

When Dowlatshahi started in the field, very little could be done for any patient who suffered a stroke. Now he says clotting strokes could completely reverse the effects of a stroke — but there's no method yet for brain bleeds.

"I look at the cerebral hemorrhage, the currently untreatable stroke, as exactly where all other strokes were [20] years ago when I first started my medical training."

The clinical trial looking into a treatment for brain bleeds will enrol 860 patients in five countries. Patients will receive an injection of a placebo or a protein that occurs naturally in the body and causes blood to clot

Responding to stroke symptoms

Studies show someone has a stroke in Canada every nine minutes — which adds up to about 60,000 strokes a year. One in four of those is a cerebral hemorrhage.

The key to reversing stroke symptoms, Dowlatshahi says, is reacting fast. Patients in the trial will need to have had symptoms for less than two hours to be eligible.

Fast is also a mnemonic for determining stroke symptoms.

  • F – Face changes suddenly, for example gets droopy.

  • A – Arm gets weak or one side of the body stops moving.

  • S – Slurred speech or an inability to speak.

  • T – Time. There isn't much, call 911.

Dowlatshahi says people make two mistakes when they, or someone they're with, have a stroke. One is waiting to see if the symptoms resolve themselves, and the other is trying to drive themselves to the hospital.

Paramedics will know where to take a patient and be able to alert the stroke specialists to prepare, as there is one comprehensive stroke centre in the city.

FASTEST also happens to be the name of the upcoming trial.

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