The future of stroke research

29 October 2015        

Illustration of stroke

To mark World Stroke Day, Christie Norris from our Research Communications team looks at our research surrounding the prevention and treatment of stroke. 

Every year, nearly 40,000 people die from stroke in the UK. A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is blocked, for example by a blood clot, starving brain cells of oxygen.

The longer blood supply to the brain is restricted, the greater the risk of permanent damage such as difficulty with balance, walking or thinking. Despite greater awareness of the signs that a stroke might be happening (F.A.S.T symptoms), progress is urgently needed to improve survival and quality of life after stroke. 

In the fight against stroke, we’re able to fund more than £16 million of stroke research thanks to your donations. These are just a few examples of that research.

What are blood clots made of?

The BHF funds Dr Robert Ariens at the University of Leeds to look at the structure of fibrin – a molecule crucial for blood clotting. Scientists have shown that the structure of fibrin differs in people who have had a heart attack or stroke from those who have not had one.

Dr Ariens is exploring which factors control fibrin, to help find clues as to how blood clots form in stroke patients. This promising research could help Dr Ariens and his team develop new drugs to prevent these dangerous blood clots from forming. These new drugs could be a safer form of targeting blood clots, as some current drugs can put stroke patients at risk of excessive bleeding. 

While developing new drugs to treat stroke is important, researchers are also exploring whether drugs already in use could help stroke patients.

Could an epilepsy drug prevent stroke?

It is well known that high blood pressure and smoking can increase your risk of having a stroke. However, scientists we fund have found a gene called HDAC9 which is also associated with increased risk of stroke. A drug already exists which blocks the HDAC9 gene and is currently used to treat epilepsy. Perhaps this drug, called sodium valproate, could also be used to treat stroke patients.

Professor Hugh Markus and team at the University of Cambridge are exploring whether people with epilepsy who are taking the drug are less likely to have a stroke compared to those not taking it. This innovative study may reveal new ways of preventing stroke by targeting our genes.

As part of our new Research Strategy we've committed to funding more clinical trials like this of existing medicines, which could have the potential for helping heart and stroke patients.

A drug treating gout holds promise 

Another good example is a study we’re funding with the Stroke Association at the University of Glasgow. Dr Jesse Dawson is investigating whether allopurinol, a drug used to treat gout, could benefit stroke patients.

In this clinical trial, stroke patients are monitored during and after treatment. The researchers are looking to see if allopurinol reduces damage caused to the brain, and on completion of the study, will see whether the drug improves a patient’s outcome after stroke.

With innovative projects surrounding both the prevention and treatment of stroke, we can expect an exciting future in the field of stroke research. 

Our pioneering stroke research could help people like Ken

Help us to continue funding crucial stroke research.