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New drug limits brain damage in stroke

London: Anakinra, a drug already used for rheumatoid arthritis, has shown promising results in stroke patients by dramatically limiting the amount of brain damage, according to a study.

Dame Nancy Rothwell and Stuart Allan, both professors at the University of Manchester and their team have spent the last 20 years investigating how to reduce damage to the brain following a stroke and testing the effectiveness of Anakinra (IL-1Ra).

Researchers induced a stroke in the rats and the drug IL-1Ra, or a placebo for comparison, was injected under the skin. The researchers did not know which animals had been given which drug. This is a similar process to what happens in clinical trials of medicines.

The results were startling. MRI scans revealed that the rats that were given IL-1Ra up to three hours after the stroke had only about half the brain damage of the placebo group, according to a university statement.

Rothwell said: "This is the first time that we are aware of a potential new treatment for stroke being tested in animals with the same sort of diseases and risk factors that most patients have. The results are very promising and we hope to undertake further clinical studies in stroke patients soon."

IL-1Ra works by blocking the naturally occurring protein interleukin 1. Researchers have identified that it is a key cause of brain injury following a stroke. Interleukin 1 encourages inflammation in the area of the brain affected by stroke.

This sends out signals to attract white blood cells. Because the barrier surrounding the brain has been weakened by the stroke, the white blood cells find it easier to enter the brain. But instead of helping the inflamed area they actually kill nerve cells and worsen the injury. The increasing presence of these cells also explains why the damage in the brain gets worse over time following a stroke.

IL-1Ra also reduces the amount of damage to the blood-brain barrier following a stroke so the harmful cells can`t enter the brain. In the recent experiments, IL-1Ra reduced the damage to the blood-brain barrier by 55 percent in healthy rats and 45 percent in rats with underlying health conditions. In all types of rats, the drug reduced the amount of activated microglia cells by 40 percent compared to the placebo group.

Allan said: "This drug has real potential to save lives and stop hundreds of thousands of people being seriously disabled by stroke. This really could be the treatment for stroke that we`ve been looking for over the past two decades."