5 Advancements in Stroke Research You Might Have Missed

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
Twitter: @rehackmagazine

With all the happenings associated with COVID-19, it’s easy for medical professionals to overlook advancements not related to the novel coronavirus. February is Heart Health Month, which means it’s an ideal time to look at five recent developments in stroke research. Physicians know that having a healthy heart reduces a patient’s risk of strokes. However, these conditions are not wholly preventable. The advancements covered here will lead to better care.

1. Learning How Strokes Disrupt Neural Processing

Some patients who suffer from minor strokes experience prolonged effects associated with post-stroke acute dysexecutive syndrome (PSADES). They find it’s no longer easy to multitask or follow back-and-forth conversations around them, for example. Doctors have known about this for years, but the evidence was mostly anecdotal. Not long ago, researchers scientifically confirmed occurrences of this phenomenon.

A recent study used a noninvasive neuroimaging technique called magnetoencephalography to examine the brains of people who recently had minor strokes. Participants performed memory, identification or memory search tasks as researchers monitored brain activity. They compared the performance to a control group of people who did not have strokes and saw notable differences. The results are an early step toward learning more about how strokes interfere with neural processing. Such data could lead to more effective treatments.

2. Detecting Strokes With Smartphones

Acting fast is crucial for minimizing stroke complications. Researchers aimed to help emergency room physicians more effectively determine whether to send suspected stroke patients for CT scans by using a machine learning app.

The innovation analyzes a person’s vocal qualities and facial movements before providing assessments. Researchers also believe patients and caregivers could use the tool before reaching hospitals. The developers took data from 80 patients and used it to train an algorithm. After the learning period, the app achieved a 79% accuracy rate, comparable to diagnostic efforts from emergency department staff.

3. Avoiding Missed Diagnoses

So-called stroke chameleons complicate providing accurate diagnoses. They are genuine ischemic strokes that do not have the classic symptoms to facilitate a prompt and correct diagnosis. The trouble is that stroke chameleons mislead physicians, causing them to connect symptoms to non-stroke ailments. That effect leads to delays in urgently needed care.

New research on ischemic stroke patients showed that their conditions could present as acute coronary syndrome, particularly when they have centralized chest or epigastric pain. The findings indicated that it took one to 72 hours for doctors to make stroke diagnoses after initially tying the symptoms to acute coronary syndrome. This research could help future stroke patients by enabling doctors to rule out other ailments more quickly.

4. Preserving Brain Cells

Researchers continually look for the best treatment regimens to give patients chances at optimal outcomes. A study conducted at the University of Calgary indicated that a drug called nerinetide boosts the likelihood of recovery from devastating strokes by 20%. Patients who were prescribed this medication also underwent endovascular treatment to remove blood clots in their brains.

Scientists say the drug alters a brain cell’s final phase of life by halting nitric oxide production. They believe it helps brain cells survive by offering neuroprotection. Brain imaging data also showed that nerinetide reduced the overall damage caused by a stroke. Nerinetide is not approved for use yet, but this progress could pave the way for enhanced stroke care that promotes improved outcomes.

5. Increasing Access for Stroke Patients

COVID-19 was a significant driver in encouraging telemedicine adoption. When patients could not safely leave their homes, they could continue receiving medical care anywhere with a stable internet connection.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus wondered if telemedicine could help recovering stroke patients. They found out by launching six trials across Canada. Each one had stroke survivors receiving a different intervention through telemedicine — from speech skill development to exercise.

The study’s results showed similar efficacy and cost for this kind of telemedicine compared to in-person care. Clinicians preferred face-to-face interactions but viewed telemedicine as a feasible alternative when people could not travel. Moreover, patients were most often satisfied with telemedicine when it included some social interaction and trained clinicians delivered it. These conclusions could give valuable insights to rehabilitation teams considering offering telemedicine on a case-by-case basis.

Hope for Stroke Care

Millions of people suffer strokes worldwide, with many of those events causing permanent disability and death. Fortunately, health care workers can more effectively prevent those complications when they know about the latest developments. The five discussed here show promise for avoiding the worst-case scenarios and facilitating fast, complete recoveries.