Researchers look for stroke clues in the blood

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According to the Centers for Disease Control stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in America.Every year about 750,000 Americans have a stroke.  With better treatments more are surviving.  Yet, strokes can be hard to diagnose and it's impossible to predict how a patient will respond to treatment.

Dr. Roger Simon, Professor of Neuroscience and Medicine at the Morehouse School of Medicine, says doctors don’t have a crystal ball to tell families what to expect.

 "And this is what patients families ask me all the time,” Dr. Simon says.  “They say, ‘Well, okay. You told us the bad news, our relative had a stroke, now tell us how are they going to do."

Simon believes a simple blood screening may hold some important answers about stroke.  For the last 7 years, he and his research partner have been studying blood, specifically white blood cells.  Simon says they’re they body’s surveillance system.

"They're looking around the body, just to make sure everything is okay,” Simon explains.  “And, occasionally, everything is not okay.  And when things are not okay, those blood cells respond."

They respond, Simon says,  by turning on and off certain genes, a process known as gene expression.

In a study recently published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, Simon and his team took a closer look at the gene expression patterns linked to stroke.

Dr. Simon and his research partner collected blood samples from 28 patients being treated at Grady Hospital's Marcus Stroke Center and gathered samples from 28 patients who hadn't had a stroke..

By sequencing the RNA in the white blood cells from both groups, then running their data through a computer algorithm, they were able to sort through about 500,000 different patterns of gene expression.

Using that information, they were able to determine which patients had had a stroke and what their short-term prognosis would be with just over 90% accuracy.

"And with a half a million pieces of information, not rolling the dice, for 2 to 12, we can tell whether you've had a stroke,” Simon says. “And, if you've had a stroke, how well you're going to do."

The research is still in the early stages, but Dr. Simon hopes it can one day take some of the mystery out of what to expect when stroke hits.