By Margaret Scheikowski
A revolutionary treatment for the most disabling strokes needs to be significantly expanded throughout Australasia so more patients can return to independent living, says a neurologist.
The stent retriever, which removes clots using a tiny folded-up wire cage, is "the biggest medical breakthrough I have seen since 1995 when I was a junior doctor," Professor Alan Barber said today.
He spoke to journalists before addressing the annual scientific meeting of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in Auckland.
Stroke is a major killer and cause of long-term disability in both countries, costing billions of dollars.
Prof Barber was an investigator in the Extend-1A study in which patients who suffered a major stroke were given the traditional treatment of an Alteplase injection to dissolve the clot, a technique which fails to clear two-thirds of massive clots.
One group also was given clot-retrieval surgery, where a tube is inserted into an artery, and dye is squirted along it so the blockage can be X-rayed.
The tiny wire cage is then inserted, encases the clot and pulls it out.
The technique saved lives and increased the chances of a patient being able to return home to live independently from 39 percent to 72 percent.
"For every five people you treat with clot retrieval, one more will go home able to function as an independent person, and there is one less person who is left severely dependent," Prof Barber said.
"This works, it's not experimental - this is what we need to do."
It requires a high-level team of experts and is gradually being introduced at some tertiary hospitals in both countries, he said.
But governments needed to significantly increase funding for centres and for structures to enable country patients to get to the big cities.
"Treatment needs to be provided equitably to everybody," he said.
The procedure should be done within six hours after the stroke.
*The writer travelled to Auckland courtesy of ANZCA.