Childhood stroke and concussion research receives $5.9M boost

MCRI researchers have received two Federal Government grants, totalling $5.9M, to further research into child stroke and concussion.

Associate Professor Mark Mackay, Director of the Children's Stroke Program at MCRI, is the lead researcher on a new $4M child stroke research trial of established time critical adult stroke treatments in babies and children. The grant will be administered by the Stroke Foundation, which has a longstanding interest in child stroke, and involve research sites at major paediatric hospitals around Australia.

The Australian Paediatric Acute Code Stroke (PACS) study will design, develop and evaluate a national protocol to increase stroke diagnosis within 4.5 hours for infants, children and teens. The study will use clinical decision support tools and advanced brain imaging. 

Associate Professor Mackay said, "Each year up to 600 Australian children suffer a stroke; one in 20 die and more than half of survivors will experience long-term impairments.

"When a stroke strikes the brain, more than 1.9 million brain cells die off every minute. Time-critical clot dissolving and retrieval therapies are having excellent results in adults in stopping this damage, but currently children do not have access to them."

The funding was provided through the MRFF's Mission for Cardiovascular Health, an initiative born through tireless advocacy from the Stroke Foundation and Heart Foundation.

Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan welcomed the announcement saying it would benefit the hundreds of Australian families devastated by childhood stroke every year. 

"The impact of childhood stroke is far reaching. We know families struggle because they simply don't know what the future holds and how their child's development may be impacted. The burden of stroke can last a lifetime.

"I am so proud Australia is leading the way on this research, but importantly that parents of children with stroke are key partners in every part of the study. Together, we will change the way stroke is treated in children nationally and internationally," she said. 

MCRI researchers also received an MRFF grant under the Traumatic Brain Injury Mission, to see whether predictive blood markers can detect children at risk for longer lasting concussion symptoms.

Concussion accounts for more than 95 per cent of all mild traumatic brain injury, with 20 per cent of all children sustaining a concussive injury before age 10. Due to the developing brain's immaturity, children and adolescents are uniquely vulnerable, even to mild injury, and around 40 per cent suffer slower than average or incomplete recovery.

The $1.975M grant will also allow the researchers to: 

  • improve personalised management of child concussion
  • develop a simple blood test to identify biomarkers of persistent concussion symptoms and recovery mechanisms
  • establish associations between these mechanisms, early PCS recovery and persisting PCS
  • improve community access to timely, accurate diagnosis and symptom-targeted acute management
  • develop and trial multidisciplinary, symptom-targeted treatments to reduce persisting PCS.

Professor Vicki Anderson will lead this trial and said, "We're confident that we'll be able to produce and translate groundbreaking new knowledge around childhood concussion, including identifying and validating quantitative markers to accurately predict risk of ongoing concussion symptoms.

"Importantly, we aim to produce more new products, like the Headcheck app, for parents and families that are free and easily accessible at the first point of care. We want to get kids back to school and sports as soon as it is safe for them to do so, and hope to identify personalised measures of when that is for each individual child."