A technique which cools the human body, inducing a kind of hibernation, is to be used to see if it will help the recovery of stroke victims. The technique, which recuduces body temperature from 36.8C to between 34C and 35C has already been used to treat brain injury after cardiac arrest or birth defects.
Inducing hypothermia by use of cooling pads and intravenous fluids, the procedure has been successful in small-scale trials, but the process by which it helps is not yet fully known. Theories suggest that when cooled, the brain requires less oxygen, so giving doctors more time to help prevent damage.
The clinical trials are being run by Friedrich-Alexander-University in Germany in collaberation the University of Edinburgh and are likely to last until 2016 or 2017 . They will involve around 1500 people across Europe, with 200 from the UK.
It is hoped that if these trials are successful, the chances of a complete recovery from a stroke will be increased from 1 in 13 to 1 in 10. Currently there are few treatments available for stroke victims.
Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh commented that “every day 1,000 Europeans die from stroke – that’s one every 90 seconds – and about twice that number survive but are disabled. Our estimates are that hypothermia might improve the outcome for more than 40,000 Europeans every year.”
Currently in Scotland a third of all strokes are fatal and although survival rates have improved over the last decade they are the third highest killer after cancer and coronary heart disease.