Research gives hope to stroke patients

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am


Chinese University researchers have received a mainland scientific award for developing a treatment to help Chinese stroke patients.

The Hong Kong team, led by Professor Lawrence Wong Ka-sing, refined a stenting procedure to reduce the rate of a follow-up stroke and death among ethnic Chinese.

Wong and his team of four professors were given a Higher Education Outstanding Scientific Research Output Award, administered by the Ministry of Education, at a ceremony held at the university yesterday.

The breakthrough is seen as important because the mainland has one of the highest mortality rates in the world for people suffering a stroke. In Western countries, a stroke is far less common and lethal.

It was one of six such awards received by the university - three in natural sciences and three for technology.

The university team began their work in 1998 and made the key discovery that a stroke among ethnic Chinese was caused by constrictions of large blood vessels in the brain, compared with smaller vessels for other peoples.

The team imported the stenting technique from the United States in 2004 and refined its use for Chinese patients. Stenting involves inserting a wire-mesh tube into a restricted artery, to hold it open and allow blood to circulate.

By focusing the stents on the smaller blood vessels of Chinese patients, they achieved impressive results. Out of 95 Chinese patients given the stenting therapy since 2004, only about 5 to 6 per cent had died or suffered a recurring stroke.

By contrast, the rate of recurrence was 23 per cent among a group of 40 patients who were given aggressive drug therapy in 2006, by the team, to compare results. That result is similar to the rate among general stroke patients.

'Right now, stroke patients who are treated in public hospitals only receive a general scan to see if there is blood vessel constriction, but that does not pinpoint exactly where that constriction is,' said Wong. 'We hope our study will help raise awareness of both this illness, among Chinese patients, and the existence of a treatment tailored to them.'

The procedure is currently offered only at Prince of Wales Hospital, the university's teaching hospital in Sha Tin.

Stent therapy was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration last April because the rate of mortality and stroke recurrence was 9.6 per cent in the United States, which was deemed too high to continue the therapy.

'We still don't know if the stenting therapy is completely safe, and maybe a therapy relying solely on medicine is the most effective. We will have to wait and see, but at least for Hong Kong it is still safe to use the therapy,' Wong said.

The researchers say it will take another three years to establish a full picture of the therapy's effectiveness.