Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia
Vancouver Island Health Authority

Vancouver Island Health Authority

March 28, 2013 13:00 ET

Preventing Strokes, One Drop of Blood at a Time

Genome BC and Vancouver Island Health Authority Fund Major Stroke Research

VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - March 28, 2013) - The largest research project ever conducted in the Vancouver Island Health Authority is underway thanks to $10 million in funding from Genome BC, Genome Canada, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and other partners. Researchers led by Dr. Andrew Penn, a Victoria-based neurologist, aim to develop a quick and inexpensive test to accurately diagnose minor stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Of more than 50,000 Canadians who experience difficult-to-diagnose TIAs every year, 5,000 will soon progress to full-blown stroke, most within a few days. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in Canada. Immediate diagnosis and treatment of TIAs can prevent stroke, but many conditions including migraines, can look like a minor stroke, leading to expensive neuroimaging testing and inconclusive results.

The research team, co-led by Dr. Christoph Borchers at the UVic-Genome BC Proteomics Centre in Victoria and Dr. Shelagh Coutts from the University of Calgary, is using state-of-the-art genomics and proteomics technologies to develop a blood test that can diagnose TIA for a fraction of the cost of expensive medical imaging using CT or MRI scans. The test will help physicians decide appropriate next steps in treatment.

"Patients having a heart attack can be diagnosed through a blood test almost immediately," says Dr. Penn, principal investigator and medical lead for Vancouver Island Health Authority's stroke program. "With a similar blood test for patients having a TIA, we can prevent 80 strokes every year on Vancouver Island - 4,000 across Canada - through early diagnosis that allows us to give the right patient the right treatment at the right time."

"Partnering with the Vancouver Island Health Authority on this work is enabling genomics and proteomics to make a tangible impact on the healthcare system and stroke patients in British Columbia and beyond," said Dr. Alan Winter, president and CEO, Genome BC. "This is genomics in action and visibly demonstrates the uptake of applied research to clinical care - bench to bedside in this instance will mean less people will suffer from stroke and stroke associated complications."

"We are excited at the momentum we are creating on Vancouver Island to build research collaborations and our capacity for world-class health research," said Vancouver Island Health Authority board chair Don Hubbard. "Dr. Penn has made significant contributions to quality stroke care through his research to date, and this new project will offer hope to stroke patients worldwide for profound improvements to care."

The research team is a collaboration of researchers from the Vancouver Island Health Authority, University of Alberta, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, University of Victoria, University of British Columbia, LifeLabs and PROOF Centre of Excellence. The project is funded through Genome Canada's recent Large-Scale Applied Research Competition in Genomics and Personalized Health with contributions from Genome BC, Genome Canada, Vancouver Island Health Authority, Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Bruker Daltonics Inc, LifeLabs and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

About Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $550M in research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada.

About Vancouver Island Health Authority

Through a network of hospitals, clinics, centres, health units, and residential facilities, Vancouver Island Health Authority provides health care to more than 765,000 people on Vancouver Island, the islands of Georgia Strait, and in mainland communities north of Powell River and south of Rivers Inlet. The health authority is involved in more than 250 research projects, and continues to expand its capacity to conduct research in collaboration with local, regional and national research organizations, to improve both quality of care and quality of life for patients and residents on Vancouver Island and beyond.

Note: B-roll and photos available on request from Vancouver Island Health Authority.


Genome BC/Vancouver Island Health Authority stroke research project

  • 50,000 Canadians experience minor strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIA) every year. Of those, 5,000 will soon progress to full-blown stroke, most within a few days. Early diagnosis of TIA using a blood test followed by proper treatment could prevent four out of five from developing into full-blown strokes.
  • Diagnosis is complicated by TIA "mimics" - conditions such as migraines that mimic the symptoms of TIA. Immediate availability of the expensive neuroimaging (CT angiogram or MRI) required to differentiate actual TIA from mimics is often limited.
  • 50% of the referrals to Victoria General Hospital's stroke rapid assessment unit are TIA "mimics". A blood test would allow accurate diagnosis and eliminate the need for neuroimaging in cases of TIA mimics.
  • Benefits of a blood test to diagnosis TIA:
    • Faster care saves lives. Achieving recommended guidelines of 80 percent of TIAs treated within 48 hours would avoid up to 4,000 strokes in Canada each year.
    • Preventing strokes reduces costs to the health system. The direct acute care costs for a stroke patient are over $50,000. The costs to family, workplace and future care for the patient, are incalculable.
    • Because stroke patients are Canada's heaviest user of acute and chronic care beds, a blood test that prevents 4,000 strokes will save the health system more than $500 million a year in direct and indirect costs.
    • Reducing mimic referrals by 20 percent could save about $10 million to the Canadian health system each year in neuroimaging costs alone, plus the associated risks of radiation and contrast dye to patients. It would also improve access to CT and MRI machines for other types of patients.
  • The research team is developing a multi-protein test using cutting-edge new techniques and technology based on mass spectrometry at the University of Victoria -Genome BC Proteomics Centre. The team will also develop accompanying decision-aid software for physicians that provides guidance on whether a patient can go home safely or whether they need further testing.
  • Vancouver Island offers ideal health research opportunities to reduce strokes. Island Health's Stroke Research Centre and Stroke Rapid Assessment Unit at Victoria General Hospital has built one of the world's largest TIA research databases, with 11,000 Vancouver Island patients. The island is uniquely placed for such research, with a captive population of 750,000 all served by one health authority, with one common health record.
  • Last year 1,325 patients were admitted to hospital for stroke on Vancouver Island.

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