Good ideas do not always get the funding they deserve, but an enterprising study of the problem of stroke prevention has been rewarded with an important grant. The results of the Adelaide University study could have enormous implications worldwide.
"Almost everyone can think of a friend or relative who has suffered a stroke." The sobering remark from Dr Simon Koblar underlies the urgency with which he is about to undertake a novel research project with fellow neurologist and PhD researcher Dr Jim Jannes.
The study will examine genetic factors that might predispose people to ischaemic stroke; where a blood clot chokes off oxygen supply to part of the brain, leaving the victim in many cases dead and in most cases disabled.
Blood clots account for 85% of the total number of strokes, which kill 12,000 Australians each year. As a cause of mortality, stroke sits just behind heart disease, but in terms of disability, stroke is the international leader, costing billions of dollars every year and causing untold misery.
Stroke is a bit of a mystery, too. Interest in heart disease has led to huge changes in public attitudes to smoking, fat consumption and exercise; all factors that are also implicated in stroke. But some who smoke heavily, have high cholesterol levels and eat huge quantities of fatty food dont succumb to stroke, while others who obey all the rules are struck down.
Just as with heart problems and Alzheimers disease, a few family studies have suggested a genetic link in strokes.
"If you have a first-degree relative who has had such a stroke, it roughly doubles your own risk," said Dr Koblar, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine. "Studies of twins have shown that an identical twin whose sibling has suffered from a stroke has a three or four-fold increase in the risk of doing so," he said. "That suggests to us that there are genetic factors that underlie stroke. If so, we want to know what they are."