New treatment seen boosting stroke survival

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Adding just a small dose of a clot-busting drug to standard treatment for strokes caused by bleeding in the brain dramatically reduced death and disability among victims, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

Normally, only about 20 percent of people survive this type of stroke, known as an intracerebral hemorrhage, which accounts for 17 percent of all strokes.

But when doctors used a clot-busting drug plus a catheter to clear out blood from the brain in a study of 50 patients, more than 80 percent of the stroke victims survived.

“Getting the blood out of the middle of the brain significantly improved their chances of survival,” said Dr. Daniel Hanley of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who presented his findings at the European Stroke Conference in Nice, France.

The clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator or tPA is typically reserved for breaking up blood clots in the more common type of stroke known as ischemic stroke, which is caused when a blood clot impedes blood flow to the brain.

When given with the first three hours of stroke symptoms, tPA can bust the clot and significantly reduce death and disability.

But tPA is typically not used in strokes associated with bleeding because it might increase bleeding, making matters worse.

Hanley said his team administers a small amount of the drug tPA through a catheter to dissolve any clots, helping to clear blood out of the damaged area of the brain faster.

He said the dose is far smaller than what might be used to break up clots from a heart attack or other types of strokes.

So far, more than 80 percent of 50 patients treated this way survived after one month, and 10 percent of these had recovered enough to return to their jobs.

“We’re seeing up to 40 percent of patients being capable of independent activity within 180 days,” Hanley said. Historically, under normal care, only about 10 percent of patients are able to function independently within that time frame, he said.

And the drug proved to be relatively safe. Hanley said only 6 percent of 50 patients treated this way experienced a second episode of bleeding.

“We think that this treatment is the most promising story in brain hemorrhage in many years,” Hanley said in a statement. “We’ve taken a condition that used to have an extremely high rate of death and disability and turned it around.”

The researchers are now planning to test this treatment in 500 patients.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman