Scientist to put patients into 'hibernation' to treat strokes

Scotland is to play a major role in a trial of artificial hibernation to treat strokes, it has been revealed.

Stroke patients from all over the UK will be offered a chance to take part in the Edinburgh University study.

The treatment involves cooling the body by two degrees to prevent further damage to the brain.

Cooling pads and cold intravenous fluids will be used to bring the body's temperature down from 36.8 degrees to between 34 and 35 degrees.

The technique is already used to reduce brain injury after cardiac arrests and birth injuries. It is hoped it will have the same effect in stroke victims.

'Substantial' effect

Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, said: "People may have heard stories about people falling through the ice and making an amazing recovery because they've been cold at the time.

"There have been a number of small studies looking at whether cooling the body could improve outcome for stroke. It's not enough to tell us for sure if it works but it suggests there may be substantial beneficial effect."

It is not known exactly how cooling the body reduces injury to the brain.

One theory is that it reduces the amount of oxygen required by the brain, another is that it triggers a defence mechanism in the cells.

Small-scale trials suggest it is most effective when used within six hours of a stroke.

Scientists hope it will reduce the number of deaths and the number of people left disabled, and increase the number of people who make a complete recovery from one-in-13 to one-in-10.

"It looks like we'll be ready to go in September of this year, recruitment to the trial will run for about four years, so by 2016 or 2017 we'll have our answer," added Dr Macleod.

"What this trial is trying to test is whether this treatment will make a difference to everyday patients, suffering everyday strokes, in everyday hospitals."

European results

The EuroHYP-1 study will involve 1,500 patients in 15 European centres. About 200 will be in the UK, up to 80 of whom will be in Scotland.

Scottish researchers will also be involved in collecting and analysing results from all over Europe.

Upon admission to hospital, patients will be asked if they want to take part in the trial or, if they are not able to give consent because of their stroke, it is possible under certain circumstances that relatives can agree on their behalf.

The study has been met with much excitement since there are few treatment options for strokes.

About 13,000 people in Scotland have a stroke every year. A third die, and another third are left with a significant disability.

Recruitment will begin in September or October and run until 2017. Results are expected in 2018.

The study will also be watched carefully by the European Space Agency.

It is interested in human hibernation as a means for long-haul interplanetary space travel.

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