Transforming Fates Through Teamwork

UK tissue bank inspires new research, collaborations to improve stroke outcomes

A collaborative research project among clinicians, basic science researchers and multiple laboratories is looking at how strokes occur and shedding light on potential new treatments.

Stroke mortality in Kentucky is among the highest in the country, but UK HealthCare wants to change that. Dr. Justin Fraser, surgical director of UK HealthCare’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, and Keith Pennypacker, PhD, have joined together with a large team of researchers on the development of a stroke tissue bank. The BACTRAC (Blood and Clot Thrombectomy Registry and Collaboration) study is helping researchers better understand how the brain reacts during an ischemic stroke.

Typically, tissue and blood samples are discarded during a mechanical thrombectomy for stroke patients. UK HealthCare researchers developed a protocol for collecting, processing and storing the clot and surrounding tissue. Most stroke research uses young male rodents; however, mice and rats have very different brains from humans and the average stroke patient is either middle-aged or an older adult. By using samples from human patients, the team can get a clearer picture of how stroke affects the brain and take those findings back to the lab for further study. In addition to tissue samples, researchers also study CAT scans and other data and observe how patients are doing in the months following a thrombectomy.

115 samples studied to date

So far, researchers have collected 115 patient samples. Published research from the UK HealthCare team has looked at:

  • Biochemical changes in blood gases and electrolytes during stroke.
  • Significant differences in how male and female brains handle stroke.
  • Changes in gene expression in stroke patients.

Researchers also have observed changes in proteins that were not previously associated with stroke. These differences could help predict a patient’s outcome and lead to new options for reversing stroke damage. “If you see the protein is downregulated and the brain is being hurt, you could possibly give the protein back in the face of a stroke,” Fraser said. Inflammation also plays a significant role in damage following a stroke, so Fraser and his colleagues are researching how white blood cells act during and after a stroke and how those cells affect a patient’s prognosis.

Large, interdependent team

This type of data-driven research requires a large, interdependent team, with UK neurointerventionalists at the bedside working with basic science researchers on a regular basis. The research team includes a computer engineer using statistical modeling and neuroradiologists studying images. The UK HealthCare team is working on grant proposals to further fund the research, and they are in the early stages of partnering with additional institutions to obtain more data.

“There’s no way I could do all this work myself,” Fraser said. “We discovered that each person brings something to the table. The project is so large that each of us can develop our own projects that we spearhead. It really does take that kind of team approach.”