London: A new technique that uses special caps to cool the brains of people who have just had a stroke could help reduce deaths and long-term disability, according to experts.
And it has been revealed that British doctors are leading a Europe-wide trial, involving 14 countries and 1,500 patients, using the chilled caps to maintain brain function.
“This could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in stroke treatment with the potential to save the lives of a huge number of people,” the Daily Express quoted study leader Professor Malcolm Macleod of Edinburgh University as saying.
A stroke occurs after a clot forms in a blood vessel stopping the supply of oxygenated blood reaching brain cells. Without oxygen, brain cells die and neurological damage occurs.
The chilled cap reduces the temperature of the scalp by about four degrees C. This protects brain cells by putting them into a suspended state where the need for oxygen is either cut or removed.
The same technique has also been used on newborn babies starved of oxygen at birth and accident victims.
“It’s rather like the way some animals hibernate. Their bodies close down to just ticking over,” explained Professor Macleod.
Neurologists have up to six hours to start treatment after the stroke before it becomes ineffective.
About 100,000 patients a year suffer a clot on the brain. Within six months, a third of them die and a further third are left severely handicapped.
Dr Clare Walton of The Stroke Association said: “Cooling is a particularly promising area of stroke research.”
If the trials are successful the caps could be in use by 2017.