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Step forward for stroke protection

News — Posted 12/03/14

Monash University scientists have made a breakthrough discovery of a drug that may reduce or even stop the effects of stroke.

Scientists have long known that gender plays some role in stroke – but what role exactly, and how to use that knowledge to apply treatment, has largely been a mystery. Stroke is Australia’s second biggest cause of death and a leading cause of disability, affecting around 50,000 each year. The incidence of stroke is higher in men up to the age of 75, similar for men and women in the 75-84 age group, and higher in women in the age group greater than 85. 

Researchers at the Monash School of Biomedical Sciences have found that a recently discovered oestrogen receptor that occurs in both men and women plays a role in the severity of a stroke – which means that males and females would require different drug treatments.

By blocking the receptor GPER in males, the symptoms of stroke may be alleviated, while triggering the receptor in females may protect them from the condition. The discovery was made using a drug on mice, which have similar oestrogen receptors to humans, and it is the first time that a drug with the potential to reduce and even stop the effect of a stroke in a sex-specific manner has been found. 

"We don't really understand the mechanisms yet but it's a very profound sex difference, so it could mean that when a male comes into emergency with a stroke, he could be given the receptor blocker and when a woman comes in, she could be given an activator of the receptor,'' lead researcher Associate Professor Chris Sobey said. ''Based on our experiments, we predict both will be beneficial.''

Associate Professor Sobey said the findings may help explain why strokes were more common in men up until the age of 75, as women have naturally higher levels of oestrogen until menopause.

The study was published in the journal Stroke and further research is expected to expand on these findings.

How to recognise a stroke

What exactly does a stroke look like? Stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly interrupted. Emergency medical treatment soon after symptoms begin improves the chance of successful recovery and rehabilitation. 

The easiest way to remember the symptoms is the FAST test, which asks three simple questions:

Face – Has their mouth dropped?

Arm – Can they lift both arms?

Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time – Time is critical. A stroke is always a medical emergency. If you see any of these signs, call 000 immediately.

For more information visit strokefoundation.com.au

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