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Dr Jessica Maclean, an early-career postdoctoral researcher with the Thrombosis Group at the Heart Research Institute (HRI), has been awarded a grant from the Hillcrest Foundation for her project “Investigating novel clot-busting therapies for stroke”, which seeks to revolutionise stroke therapy.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, with one stroke occurring every 19 minutes in Australia.

Most strokes are caused by a blood clot (thrombosis) blocking blood flow to the brain (ischaemic stroke). Early treatment to break up or remove this clot is critical – the longer a stroke remains untreated, the greater the chance of brain damage and disabling side effects.

However, there is currently only one clinically approved clot-busting drug for stroke, and it can be used in only a small percentage of patients due to its dangerous bleeding side effects in the brain. This means up to 90 per cent of people who suffer a stroke are left with no effective emergency therapy. The need for a more effective stroke treatment is critical.

Dr Maclean’s research will investigate why current therapies for the blood clots that cause stroke are suboptimal and focus on identifying potential new therapeutic agents for stroke. This work could transform future treatment approaches to stroke and provide new hope to the thousands of people who suffer a stroke every year.

Over the past seven years, Dr Maclean and the Thrombosis Group have developed sophisticated scientific models of stroke, which will be used to test the safety and efficacy of these new therapeutic agents. Supported by the Hillcrest Foundation grant, Dr Maclean’s research will build on research by Prof Shaun Jackson and Assoc Prof Simone Schoenwaelder of the Thrombosis Group, who discovered that PI3Kβ inhibitors could be safely used as anti-clotting therapies. Dr Maclean’s work aims to understand the safety and efficacy of these agents, as how they could be utilised to fight stroke remains unknown. The Thrombosis Group is also conducting a world-first trial of a new anti-clotting drug that could potentially be used in all people who suffer a stroke.

Through this research, we could broad­en the time­frames and rates at which emer­gency stroke treat­ment can be suc­cess­ful­ly used to help patients,” says Dr Maclean.

“With improved and more widely applicable treatments for stroke, we could reduce the number of people dying from stroke or suffering from its debilitating side effects.

“I am truly grateful to have been awarded this Hillcrest Foundation grant. This project will build on our fundamental research into how clots form and how best to treat them in disease. Using our bespoke macroscope that generous HRI supporters helped fund, the research team and I will, for the first time, be able to visualise exactly how our therapies work on disease-causing clots. These insights will allow us greater precision for our newly developed therapeutic, ensuring our treatment is as safe and effective as possible in stroke.

“Ultimately, this exciting project will provide fundamental insights into improving stroke treatments! Funding like this is tremendous support for early career researchers, as it enables exploration of creative new research ideas. Thank you to the funders for this support.”

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