(November 16, 2000, Gazette)
focus of stroke research
MacLeod (L), the regional marketing associate for AstraZeneca,
and Dr. Dale Corbett.
Stroke is the leading cause of permanent disability in Canada
and the third most common cause of death. Newfoundland has the
highest incidence of stroke in the country, but no specialized
hospital unit to deal with these brain attacks.
What we do have is a stoke laboratory in the Faculty of Medicine
that is part of the latest National Centre of Excellence and
new Canadian Stroke Network. Dr. Dale Corbett is the neuroscientist
who runs the laboratory, and he is more than happy to spend time
telling people about his work.
On Oct 24 he gave a lunchtime talk at the Fluvarium to invited
guests from government, health care organizations, community
groups and the university. Dr. Corbett's research has recently
changed from looking at how to prevent cell death immediately
following a stroke, to looking at how rehabilitation can be improved
to help stroke victims recover even long after the actual stroke.
He explained that stroke victims go through a process similar
to the development of motor control in young children, including
a regression of left brain/right brain dominance. "We need
to see what kind of events will rewire the brain. We do know
the brain remains plastic and has the capacity for increased
recovery if you do the right thing."
Dr. Corbett said what works in a laboratory setting with animals
is very intense rehabilitation in which the animal is encouraged
to use the impaired limb rather than compensating by using the
uninjured limb. "We can improve the deficit up to 50 per
cent, but it requires much more time in rehabilitation that is
currently being done."
After a stroke, the brain tries to heal itself through an increase
in proteins that affect such things as growth and neuronal structure.
"We can help the brain heal itself but it may mean a change
in the way we do rehabilitation."
Dr. Corbett knows that what he is saying goes against standard
treatment for stroke victims, but it's not the first time he's
opposed conventional wisdom. For the past 10 years, he has looked
into the value of hypothermia, or lowering body temperature,
to prevent cell death after stroke -- a technique that was not
believed to have a beneficial effect for stroke. But because
of the positive results of his basic bio-medical research with
laboratory animals, clinical tests are now being done in this
area. "I think I've closed the hypothermia chapter of my
work, and now it's up to the clinicians."
In response to questions from the audience, some of which dealt
with actual cases where a stroke had been misdiagnosed, Dr. Corbett
said that physicians are not taught enough about stroke and how
to treat it. "It's a brain attack and it's an emergency.
In Calgary there's a Stroke Hot Line, and that's the kind of
thing we need to work towards, as well as a specialized hospital
unit for stroke victims."
Dr. Corbett's talk was part of Health Research Awareness Month,
and was sponsored by AstraZeneca.