Open Access Government looks at the wider work of The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the U.S. when it comes to reducing the burden of neurological disease and how they are supporting stroke research
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is an Institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S which seeks to gain fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system to reduce the burden of neurological disease. (1)
The current Director of the new Division of Neuroscience is Lyn Jakeman, PhD, appointed in October 2018. When appointed, she painted a very positive picture of neuroscience research. “We are in the midst of amazing technological and analytical advances that are rapidly accelerating the pace of discovery in fundamental and applied neuroscience research”, she said (2)
A balance of basic, translational and clinical research
Going into further detail, we know that NINDS fosters a balance of basic, translational and clinical research. Indeed, it is said that scientists and physicians in academia and industry agree that basic research is crucial for long-term progress against neurological diseases. In essence, basic research aims to help us understand how the nervous system develops and works and what goes wrong in disease.
While the private sector in the U.S. supports little basic neuroscience research because the return on investment in this type of research is unpredictable, the NIH, therefore, supports most basic medical research in the U.S in this field.
Following on from this, it’s worth noting that NINDS basic research is divided between research on the normal development and working of the nervous system, plus research related to disease mechanisms.
The cluster organisation of the NINDS extramural program focuses on the following areas, amongst others: neurodegeneration, such as shared mechanisms of nerve cell death that contribute to many diseases; the control of the environment of nerve cells by supporting cells; systems and cognitive neuroscience, including attention, thinking, sensation, perception, movement, learning, memory and emotion; as well as the role of genes in the normal and diseased nervous system; nervous system repair and plasticity, such as neural prostheses, stem cells, and regeneration. Maintaining this remarkable breadth of basic research is essential to the Institute’s mission. (3)
When it comes to NINDS Division of Translational Research (DTR), we know that they provide funding and resources (approximately $100 million annually) for neurological disorders and stroke through grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts to academic and industry researchers to advance early-stage neurological technologies, as well as therapeutic programmes to industry adoption and devices. (4)
There are many examples of NIH-funded stroke research that we read about online, such as this NIH-funded trial which finds a lower rate of secondary stroke but a small risk of bleeding, and how preliminary research results suggest that strokes also affect the eye.
Let’s, however, take a look now at a more recent example, an NINDS funded study that suggests a change in diet could mitigate increased risk for stroke. These recent research findings suggest that diet is a major contributor to the increased risk of hypertension in black compared to white Americans.
We find out that the results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examine the incidence of stroke in around 30,000 individuals. “This study addresses a lead cause of racial disparity in mortality and identifies potential lifestyle changes that could reduce racial disparities in both stroke and heart disease,” says Claudia Moy, Ph.D., NINDS program director and one of the authors of the study.
In the study, researchers looked at individuals over the age of 45 over a period of 10 years and sought to identify risk factors associated with the higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure in the study participants. George Howard, a biostatistics professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham gives his own thoughts on the study: “The majority of disparities we see in the health of black versus white Americans are cardiovascular in nature and of these, all are tied to an increase in high blood pressure.”
We find out that a diet consisting of high amounts of fried and processed foods, as well as sweetened beverages, was the greatest factor as to why blacks are at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure compared to whites, for both sexes. Important factors for men and women include salt intake and education level. For women, extra factors contributing to the racial difference in high blood pressure included waist size and obesity.
“One of the main factors affecting the difference between the black and white population is cardiovascular disease, and the increased risk of high blood pressure among black Americans could help explain why their life expectancy is four years shorter than that of whites,” says Dr Howard. “Understanding how we can prevent this increased risk of hypertension in blacks is critical for reducing health disparities among the black population”, he adds.
As this article comes to a close, we know that these researchers hope that these findings might be applied to reduce the prevalence of hypertension and, therefore, the risk of stroke and heart attack in the black American population. This study recommends that lifestyle changes, such as changes in diet, could help to lower the disparities evidenced in black versus white Americans.
The last word goes to Dr Howard, who provides a very sensible piece of advice on how to treat high blood pressure. “The best way to treat high blood pressure is to prevent it from occurring in the first place,” states Dr Howard. (5)
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