A 20-year investigation has uncovered a drug that can dramatically reduce the amount of brain damage in stroke victims.
Researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that IL-1Ra was effective at reducing the amount of brain damage after an induced stroke in rats. The animals received an injection of either IL-1Ra or a placebo, and MRI scans revealed those given the drug up to three hours after the stroke had half the brain damage of the placebo group.
IL-1Ra blocks interleukin 1 – a naturally occurring protein which encourages inflammation in the area of the brain affected by stroke. The protein sends signals to switch on microglia cells and attract white blood cells to the brain. The white blood cells enter the brain more easily as the blood-brain barrier is damaged, and instead of helping the inflamed area, they kill nerve cells and worsen the injury.
IL-1Ra also reduces the amount of damage to the blood-brain barrier – by 55% in healthy rats and 45% in those with underlying health conditions. Likewise, the drug lowered the amount of activated microglia cells compared to the placebo group.
Professor Stuart Allan said: “This drug has real potential to save lives and stop hundreds of thousands of people being seriously disabled by stroke. This really could be the treatment for stroke that we’ve been looking for over the past two decades.”
He hopes IL-1Ra could be used against both forms of stroke – ischaemic stoke and primary haemorrhage – meaning it could be administered immediately.
Their study builds on previous work, but the big difference is that this research used models with risk factors –– obesity, insulin resistant and atherosclerosis – alongside healthy ones, meaning the findings have a greater chance of being replicated in humans.
“This is the first time that we are aware of a potential new treatment for stoke being tested in animals with the same sort of disease and risk factors that most patients have,” said Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell. “The results are very promising and we hope to undertake further clinical studies in stroke patients soon.”