Sharon McGowan, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Stroke Foundation, argues that research is key to curbing stroke
Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. It is a devastating disease that strikes the brain, the most complex organ in our bodies, responsible for our movement, thoughts and feelings.
Too many Australian lives are impacted by stroke when we know it can be prevented, treated and beaten. This year there will be more than 56,000 strokes in Australia – that’s one every nine minutes. That number continues to increase as our population grows and ages and lifestyles become more sedentary. Globally, one in four people will have a stroke in their lifetime.
The role of research
Curbing the rate and devastation caused by stroke is an enormous challenge both in Australia and around the world. Medical research is a key component, along with educating the community about stroke prevention.
Recently, the Australian Government announced it is investing $437 million in health and medical research. This included $58 million for cardiovascular disease (stroke and heart disease) research. The funding package builds on a previously announced $220 million Mission for Cardiovascular Health.
It is encouraging to see support from the Australian Government for high-quality research. There is still so much we do not know about the brain and investment is crucial for future breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment and care.
The true value of research is evident in the significant advances in time-critical acute stroke treatments in the past two decades. This has led to a reduction in the number of lives lost to stroke and a greater number of patients return to independent living.
But we must not stop now, more funding is needed to make further developments a reality. With more people surviving stroke than ever before, we must now find the keys to maximise their recovery, to provide them with the best chance to live long and productive lives.
We know the transition from hospital to home can be challenging. Research in rehabilitation and mental health are important to improve the quality of life in the long term. People with stroke deserve effective treatments underpinned by an evolving understanding of brain recovery and human behaviour.
Stroke Foundation Research and Innovation Program
Research is a core part of our organisation’s mission to prevent stroke, save lives and enhance recovery. Since 2008, almost $5 million in research grants has been awarded to more than 200 researchers.
Historically, our seed grants are awarded to early to mid-career researchers (www.strokefoundation.org.au) for pilot or feasibility studies. This enables researchers to take their first step towards an idea which could provide the next big discovery in stroke. Seed funding the research pipeline is an essential role of funders such as the Stroke Foundation. Our close connection with the stroke community enables us to focus on supporting the research that matters most to those impacted by stroke.
Building capability in the stroke research community is the first link in the chain of discovery and can pave the way for future change in policy, practice and knowledge. It also encourages individuals to enter and stay in the research field.
In awarding the grants, we identify current gaps in research, where it is most needed and where studies can potentially have the biggest impact. A priority in the 2020 grant round was innovation to support the diverse needs of carers, recognising that the impact of stroke is widespread and life-changing for loved ones too.
Stroke researchers look to the skies for the latest breakthrough
Australia has unique needs in stroke research due to its large land mass, dispersed community and indigenous population. In an exciting project currently underway, Australia could become home to the world’s first stroke air ambulance.
Stroke Foundation is part of the Australian Stroke Alliance (ASA), an alliance between 37 research, industry and government entities that wish to develop a suite of World First portable imaging technologies that will radically transform access to early prehospital treatments, and dramatically improve stroke outcomes across Australia.
The ASA was successful in being awarded $1 million in Stage 1 funding from the Commonwealth of Australia under the Medical Research Future Fund – Frontier Health and Medical Research Program (MRFF) to develop a Research Plan for the project, which will form the basis for a MRFF Stage 2 submission which aims to deliver modern prehospital stroke care to Indigenous, rural and metropolitan Australians, including the world’s first stroke capable air ambulance.
This has the potential to transform access to emergency stroke treatment for patients in rural and remote areas and give them the best chance of survival. Sadly, people outside of Australia’s cities are 19% more likely to have a stroke and are also more likely to have a poorer outcome due to their distance to lifesaving, time-critical medical treatments.
Research has the power to save lives, prevent disability and ultimately reduce the burden of stroke on our community. It is more important now than ever as the incidence of stroke grows. By 2050, it is estimated there will be one stroke every four minutes in Australia and one million stroke survivors will be living in our communities unless action is taken.
We know research takes time and perseverance and a great deal of funding, but the outcomes provide hope and can make a difference to the lives of stroke survivors and their loved ones for generations to come.
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