'It saves lives': Medical study says established heart drug good for strokes, too

New research shows that Tenecteplase, commonly used as a clot-buster for heart attacks, is also an effective treatment for acute ischemic stroke.

2-year study includes 1,600 patients, largest stroke clinical trial ever

Dr. Bijoy Menon, a professor at the University of Calgary Foothills Medical Centre, describes his part in the largest stroke clinical trial ever run in Canada. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Andre Lavoie knew almost immediately that he was suffering a stroke.

The 60-year-old from Calgary was helping his wife put away groceries in 2015 when he dropped a can onto the floor.

"I bent to pick it up with my left arm and ... nothing. I could not pick it up," Lavoie said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I said 'Oh My God. I'm having a stroke.' Luckily it did not affect my judgment and I went to my wife and said 'call 911."'

Lavoie said he is one of the lucky ones. His blood clot cleared on its own by the time the ambulance arrived, but months of headaches and a feeling of unease followed.

He agreed to be part of a focus group at the Foothills Medical Centre conducted by the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine. It was part of a large study about the use of an established heart medication in stroke patients.

Research published Wednesday in the British medical journal The Lancet shows that Tenecteplase, commonly used as a clot-buster for heart attacks, is also an effective treatment for acute ischemic stroke — when blood flow through a brain artery is blocked by a clot.

The two-year study, which included Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto, included 1,600 patients at hospitals throughout Canada. It was the largest stroke clinical trial ever run in the country.

Dr. Bijoy Menon, a University of Calgary professor and a neurologist at Foothills hospital, was the co-principal investigator of the study. He said the common treatment has been a drug called Alteplase, which is effective but more difficult to administer.

He said it takes up to an hour and requires an infusion pump that needs to be monitored.

That's not the case with the heart drug, which is simply injected and begins working almost immediately, said Menon.

"The big advantage would actually be the speed at which this could be delegated. This could be delegated really easy and fast for folks in rural hospitals, in ambulances, folks even in big hospitals ... everything gets done really fast so that's the big advantage of this new drug.

"The time you make up could really improve outcomes."

Menon said the findings could revolutionize stroke treatment and could also offer a less expensive option in mid- and lower-income countries.

"Tenecteplase is known to be an effective clot-dissolving drug. It is very easy to administer, which makes it a game-changer when seconds count to save brain cells," Menon said.

"When you are treating your patients faster, they tend to do better and it saves lives."

'Just do it'

Lavoie said when he shared his input in the focus group, he said using the heart drug in stroke patients was a good idea.

"When they said this is one injection and they can do it earlier than the other one I said 'Jeez don't do a study. Just do it,"' he said with a chuckle.

"If I get another stroke I know what to ask for."

Menon said the drug is already proven to be safe and, with the results of the study, he expects it could be months rather than years before it starts to be used on a regular basis.

Carol Kenney, the clinical trials nurse coordinator, said the new drug would free nurses up to provide additional treatment for the patients once it is administered.

"We say time is brains so the quicker we treat patients the better it is."


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