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UTHealth research highlights findings on thrombectomy, post-stroke anxiety, and caregiver burden

Photo of Amrou Sarraj, MD, presenting at the International Stroke Conference 2019. Photo credit is AHA
Amrou Sarraj, MD, presenting at the International Stroke Conference 2019. (Photo credit: American Heart Association)

Outcomes in patients treated with mechanical clot removal, results from the only mobile stroke unit in the country using rendezvous transfers, and data on predictors of post-stroke depression and anxiety were among the highlights of activity by investigators from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) at the International Stroke Conference 2019.

Faculty, students, and staff from UTHealth presented more than 60 oral presentations, posters, or moderated posters, and won five awards.

Research outcomes revealed that success of the use of thrombectomy – mechanical clot removal – was affected by the size of the stroke and the time period between onset and treatment, according to lead author Amrou Sarraj, MD, associate professor in the Department of Neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHeath. Patients with a larger area of tissue damage and who experienced a longer time period from onset of the stroke to treatment had poorer outcomes. Sarraj also presented research results showing that thrombectomy outcomes using advanced imaging were similar between patients who presented directly at thrombectomy-capable hospitals and those transferred from another hospital.

Stephanie Parker, RN, BSN, nurse manager and program director of the UTHealth Mobile Stroke Unit, presented a unique rendezvous system she designed to increase the unit’s ability to treat more stroke patients in the prehospital setting. The UTHealth unit is the only mobile stroke unit in the world that meets emergency medical services at a halfway point. Recent data shows the system is increasing patient volumes by 50 percent without affecting treatment times.

Tzu-Ching “Teddy” Wu, MD, associate professor of neurology and director of the teleneurology program, was a co-author or senior author of posters and presentations involving telestroke and transfer metrics for stroke patients. Among those was a presentation about how community hospitals using telestroke are able to achieve similar stroke treatment times compared to comprehensive stroke centers.

Farhaan Vahidy, MBBS, PhD, MPH, associate professor of neurology and director of the Population Health and Health Services Research Division at the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, was a co-author or senior author of presentations on brain hemorrhage, health services delivery, and health care disparities. Vahidy is senior mentor to Jennifer Meeks, MS, who presented research revealing pregnant women face a much greater risk of having a fatal, but less common, type of stroke caused by bleeding into the brain. The abstract earned Meeks a junior investigator travel award.

Anjail Sharrief, MD, MPH, assistant professor of neurology and director of stroke prevention at the institute, was a senior author or co-author of presentations focusing on caregiver burden, secondary stroke prevention, and complications after stroke.  Sharrief also participated in a debate on whether all patients with stroke should undergo a sleep study.

Sunil Sheth, MD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the imaging core for the institute, was a senior author and senior mentor of faculty regarding various studies about stroke and neuroendovascular therapy. Many of his studies are at a population level, using administrative datasets, including a presentation and concurrent publication revealing that outcomes for patients treated with endovascular therapy are directly associated with the experience of the hospital performing the procedure. 

Other faculty whose research was presented at the meeting included Myriam Fornage, PhD, professor at the Center for Human Genetics; Nicole Gonzales, MD, associate professor of neurology; Amanda Jagolino, MD, assistant professor of neurology; Tiffany “TC” Cossey, MD, assistant professor of neurology; and Kristin Brown, MD, assistant professor of neurology.  Faculty in neurosurgery who presented at the meeting included Ritvij Bowry, MD; Spiros Blackburn, MD; Tiffany Chang, MD; and Devin McBride, PhD, all assistant professors in the Department of Neurosurgery and emerging leaders in cerebrovascular research.

Presentations from nurses and nursing students and faculty at the Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth included Jennifer Beauchamp, PhD, RN, associate professor, who presented new findings on post-stroke anxiety. The study revealed 1 in 4 stroke survivors report experiencing moderate to severe anxiety two to eight weeks after their stroke.

“It has been an unprecedented year of significant growth in research and another hugely successful International Stroke Conference for investigators and health providers at UTHealth,” said Sean Savitz, MD, professor of neurology and director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease.

“Building on our prior successes, stroke research at UTHealth has broadened to diverse areas of our university including faculty and students at McGovern Medical School, Cizik School of Nursing, School of Biomedical Informatics, and the Memorial Hermann System hospitals,” Savitz said.

The UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, founded in 2017, serves as a multidisciplinary hub for research and best practices in acute stroke treatments, stroke prevention, stroke recovery, population health, and health services. It includes pilot funds for new studies, clinical trial design expertise, and new training opportunities in stroke and cerebrovascular disease. Core services include biology, data/statistics, clinical care, and imaging.

“It is wonderful to see that all eight stroke fellows and several neurology residents had research findings presented at the meeting. Our stroke training fellowship program under Dr. Sarraj is the largest in the country,” Savitz said. “Thanks to the tremendous mentorship of our very talented faculty, a great many presentations were given by trainees in our program,” Savitz said. “I’m extremely proud of all their achievements, which demonstrate our shared commitment to continue leading in the delivery of excellent stroke patient care and research.”

The International Stroke Conference of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, held this month in Honolulu, Hawaii, is the largest meeting in the world dedicated to the science and treatment of cerebrovascular disease, drawing more than 4,500 stroke experts from across the globe.

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