A $10-million research project is underway in Greater Victoria to find a blood test to identify minor strokes before they lead to major strokes — the leading cause of adult disability in Canada.
The four-year project — the largest in the history of the Vancouver Island Health Authority — could produce a means of diagnosis that would become the worldwide standard if it’s as successful as expected, said principal investigator Dr. Andrew Penn.
“We wouldn’t be heading into this thing if we didn’t think we could pull it off,” said Penn, a neurologist.
The stroke test should be quick and inexpensive. Ideally, it would work much the same way as tests for heart attacks, which can be diagnosed almost immediately through a blood test for a single protein.
Currently, patients who report to the Victoria General Hospital’s stroke rapid-assessment unit can be given only one test: an expensive CT scan perfusion test.
But new local technology will allow scientists to look at multiple proteins in the blood at the same time in the hunt for signature patterns to identify minor strokes, called transient ischemic attacks, Penn said.
Victoria is home to one of the best mass spectrometry labs for this research, led by Dr. Christoph Borchers at the University of Victoria-Genome B.C. Proteomics Centre and Dr. Shelagh Coutts from the University of Calgary.
Stroke and vascular dementia, which can seriously disable people without killing them, are the main reason for nursing home care in Canada, Penn said.
The new research uses funds from Genome B.C., Genome Canada, VIHA and other partners.
“It is taking a lot of work that has already been done by many other centres, but it’s also introducing some new technology,” Penn said.
Large grants of this type typically go to a much larger medical school. However, it’s far easier to see the effect of stroke interventions in a population like that on the Island, where patients are treated within a single health authority with electronic access to medical records, he said.
VGH’s stroke assessment unit was the first in Canada when it opened in 2004 but has become a victim of its own success. The clinic assessments prevented about 75 major strokes annually in the early years, but once patients knew there was a place to go when they experienced the symptoms of minor stroke — such as trouble speaking for a few minutes — people experiencing migraine headaches and other ailments with the similar symptoms began to inundate the clinic.
Despite the increase in patients, the number of strokes identified fell some years.
“We’ve been unsuccessful at keeping on that [assessment] target and that’s why we got the grant,” Penn said. Moreover, CT scans were given to hundreds of patients who did not need them, while others went without.
VIHA is relocating the VGH stroke assessment unit within the hospital. The new clinic, expected to be up and running within a year, will be the largest in the country, Penn said.
© Copyright 2013