NBN “Medical Marvels” Series – Stroke recovery

Jun 5 2009

Associate Professor Mark Parsons

Stroke affects 53,000 Australians each year and is the biggest cause of adult disability.

Associate Professor Mark Parsons from Hunter New England Health and Calvary Mater Newcastle combines research with the clinical care of stroke patients. He leads the HMRI Stoke Research Group which aims to reduce the disability from stroke through more effective treatments. The Group is regarded as the state leader in stroke research and one of the top centres nationally.

What have you discovered?

We discovered new brain imaging techniques which can better select patients for clot busting treatment. These new techniques are being adopted worldwide.

With colleagues at the Royal Melbourne Hospital we demonstrated that the time window for treatment with clot busting therapies can be extended beyond the current three hour window.

We have developed the Pre-hospital Acute Stroke Triage (PAST) Protocol, a collaboration with the NSW Ambulance Service, which enables patients to reach hospital faster, in time for effective treatment. Fast treatment results in better health outcomes.

We discovered that recovery after stroke involves re-learning what used to be automatic activities. Previously dormant areas of the brain become active during the recovery process. The earlier that activity occurs the better the long-term outcome.

Why is this significant?

Our brain imaging techniques enable more suitable patients to be identified for clot dissolving treatment with less risks. This allows more patients to benefit from clot dissolving treatment. This means less disability from stroke.

Since the PAST Protocol was implemented, treatment rates at John Hunter Hospital have risen to world best practise levels. As a result, more patients have benefitted from the treatment and significant health care dollars have been saved by minimising the time spent in hospital and rehabilitation. If implemented nationally, it could save $31.2 million in health care dollars annually.

Our imaging research is also guiding stroke rehabilitation, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy, towards activating previously dormant brain areas which could take over from the damaged areas of the brain.

What have you achieved since the PULSE Award for Early Career Research in 2007?

I was appointed Chairman of the Australasian Stroke Trials Network and leader of the HMRI Stroke Research Group. I received the Leonard Cox Award from the Australian and New Zealand Association of Neurologists in recognition of a significant contribution to stroke research. I was also recently promoted to Associate Professor.

Mark is a member of HMRI’s Brain and Mental Health Research Program. Grants from HMRI supporters including the Stroud Rodeo, Ferma McLean, the Greaves family and the family of Dr Andrew Lojszczyk have funded several of his early studies.