New research in Oxford could lead to improvements in recovery of stroke survivors

26 June 2019        

Category: Research

Research funded by the BHF in Oxford could help find new ways to aid the recovery of stroke survivors.

An x-ray of a stroke patient.

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. It is one of the biggest causes of disability in the UK and kills over 36,000 people in the country each year.

Ischaemic stroke is the most common type of stroke in the UK and typically occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. When a person who has had a stroke is admitted to hospital, doctors are sometimes able to remove the clot. This can be done using clot-busting drugs or through other interventions, such as surgery, and a patient can then normally start their recovery.

No-reflow phenomenon

However, for some patients, once the clot has been removed, the blood may not flow back into the blood vessel. This is known as the ‘no-reflow’ phenomenon, and in this case, the tissue continues to suffer from a lack of oxygen and the brain suffers further damage. It is not fully understood why this happens and how it can be prevented.

Now, Dr Paolo Tammaro and his team at the University of Oxford have been awarded more than £250,000 from the BHF to investigate this issue in a new three-year project.

Dr Tammaro suspects that small cells called pericytes, which are found around tiny blood vessels called capillaries, can cause this no-reflow. The team is particularly interested in a protein that causes the pericytes to bond together and constrict capillaries, leading to the no-reflow phenomenon.

By studying how this protein regulates the capillaries, and by targeting it with drugs in a rat model of stroke, the project could help identify new therapeutic targets.

Major clinical issue

Dr Paolo Tammaro from the University of Oxford.

Dr Paolo Tammaro from the University of Oxford will be leading this research.

Dr Tammaro, Associate Professor in Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said: “The no-reflow phenomenon is a major clinical issue that can dramatically affect the recovery of a stroke survivor.

“Scientists and doctors need to understand more about this. Although we have identified a protein that can cause this, we don’t know the underlying mechanism.

“Our research will aim to address this and could identify new treatments to prevent the no-reflow phenomenon and ultimately help a stroke survivor on their road to recovery.”

New approaches to improve the recovery of stroke survivors

Dr Lucie Duluc, Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year – one at least every five minutes – so this really drives the need to find more effective treatments for those affected by this serious and debilitating condition.

“This research could provide us with answers about the no-reflow phenomenon. Although further research will be needed to see how these findings are applicable to humans, this could result in new approaches to improve the recovery of stroke survivors.

“Research like this has only been made possible by the generous funding of the public and their support to drive forward our mission to beat heartbreak forever.”

From heart diseases and stroke to vascular dementia, the BHF raises money to fund research into all heart and circulatory diseases and their risk factors.