Cooling stroke victims brains could save as many lives as drugs

Cooling the brains of people who have just had a stroke could have as dramatic effect on reducing deaths and long term disability as ‘clot-busting’ drugs new reserach has found.Cooling stroke victims brains could save as many lives as drugsReducing a patient’s body temperature to 35C induces a kind of hibernation in the brain that helps protect it from damage, pilot studies indicate.

The technique – which can involve introducing cold saline solution into the veins, and putting ice-packs on the body – is already used for patients with traumatic head injuries and for some babies hurt during birth.

Now academics across Europe are setting up a £9 million study, funded largely by the EU, to test the theory in 1,500 volunteers.

Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at Edinburgh University, said: “Our estimates are that hypothermia might improve the outcome for more than 40,000 Europeans every year.”

Pilot studies indicate at least seven or eight per cent of stroke patients will benefit from the cooling therapy, he said- similar to the proportion helped by thrombolysis.

Dr Macleod noted cooling appeared to work for up to six hours after the stroke, compared to about 4.5 hours for thrombolysism. He also said it could also be used in the vast majority of stroke patients, which is not the case for clot-busting drugs, which can only be used for about one in five.

He continued: “It’s a treatment that might in time be available to give in the back of ambulances.”

The larger study is needed to verify the pilot study results, he said.

Dr Clare Walton from The Stroke Association said: “Cooling is a particularly promising area of stroke research because we know body temperature often increases following a stroke and patients with very high temperatures tend to make poorer recoveries.

“We already know that cooling is effective in reducing the amount of brain damage in patients who have acquired brain injuries from accidents. We look forward to finding out whether it has the same positive effect in stroke patients.”

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