Strokes are common but devastating events that lead to death and disability in populations around the world. Stroke risk is determined by many factors, the most notable being cardiovascular health. A new treatment, dubbed “magnetic blood” treatment, is being tested in the U.S. and the U.K. in the hopes that it will be able to minimize the detrimental effects of strokes.
Stroke Facts and Statistics New or recurrent strokes affect 795,000 million Americans and 152,000 Britons every year. In the U.S., stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, killing approximately 129,000 people per year, or one person every four minutes. One in five strokes in the U.K. are fatal, and half of survivors are left with serious disabilities. Strokes are the leading cause of adult disability worldwide. Because strokes can cause paralysis, diminished brain function, loss of speech and other physical damage that robs people of their independence, your doctor may perform tests to assess your risk. These tests include a physical exam, bloodwork and MRI or CT scanning. Additional scans can help identify existing or potential clot sites.
What is Magnetic Blood Treatment? Doctors look for clots because these obstructions are a major cause of strokes. Clots in the brain block blood flow and deprive the tissue of oxygen in what’s known as an ischemic stroke. Traditional treatment involves injecting a drug to dissolve the clot, but slower blood flow may mean that the medication doesn’t reach the area in time to prevent damage. Thrombectomy, in which a clot is physically removed, is also possible, but the procedure hasn’t been proven to help patient outcomes. Magnetic blood treatment uses microscopic iron ore beads that are smaller than blood cells to carry drugs to clots more quickly. One study showed that this method has the potential to deliver clot-busting medication anywhere from 100 to 1000 times faster than the standard treatment. The procedure is officially called “magnetically enhanced diffusion” and has been tested by researchers in the U.S. and the U.K. using different study methods. How the Treatment Works In the U.S. study, drug-infused magnetic particles were coated with albumin to prevent the body’s immune system from identifying and attacking them as invaders before the medication could reach the clot site.
The goal was to use magnetic imaging or other magnetic guidance to speed the delivery of the drug and dissolve clots faster than was previously possible. British researchers injected the particles into patients’ arms immediately following the administration of clot dissolving medication. A strong rotating magnet was then placed next to the head to draw the particles toward the clot faster. Both approaches take advantage of the magnetic nature of iron ore to fight against the natural slowing of blood flow that occurs in the presence of a clot. The beads speed the delivery of the drug and then “stick” by the clot site to ensure that the patient receives the full benefit of the treatment. Once treatment is complete, the beads are harmlessly excreted from the body. Hope for the Future The U.S. study on magnetic blood treatment was headed by Paolo Decuzzi, Ph.D., the leader at the Department of Transitional Imaging at Houston Methodist Research Institute. His team bound the magnetic particles to a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the only drug approved by the FDA for treating ischemic strokes. Most patients can benefit from tPA if the treatment is administered within three hours. Faster delivery helps circumvent the problem of the drug breaking down in the body, a process that usually requires higher doses and raises the risk of hemorrhage. Decuzzi and his colleagues used human tissue cultures and mouse models to determine if the tPA-infused magnetic particles were able to get to and dissolve clots fast enough to provide an advantage for stroke patients. The results were promising, although the treatment hasn’t yet been tested in clinical trials involving humans. The British study, presented at the American Stroke Association conference in 2016, showed that magnetic blood treatment administered within three hours reduced serious disabilities in 33 percent of stroke patients versus 23 percent who were untreated. However, six out of ten treated patients still exhibited “significant” disabilities. Since this treatment is currently still in testing, time continues to be a critical element in preventing disability and death. If you believe you’re having a stroke, seek emergency care immediately. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that combines a nutritious diet with a diverse exercise regimen and regular physical checkups can help reduce your risk of stroke.