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Cooling down the body after a stroke could reduce the brain damage suffered by victims, say scientists at Edinburgh University, where a new study will take place to assess the viability of this treatment.
Scientists still do not know how lowering the body temperature affects the injury to the brain, but similar techniques have been used on heart attack patients and babies who have been deprived of oxygen at birth. During the trial doctors will use cooling pads, blankets and intravenous fluids to lower the body temperature from 36.8 degrees to between 34 and 35 degrees. Experts hope to prove that by inducing hypothermia in stroke victims they will reduce the number of patients who die or are left severely disabled.
Dr Malcolm Macleod, head of experimental neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, hopes to begin the study next September, when patients admitted to hospital will be asked if they would like to take part in the trial, which will run for around four years. Smaller trials which have already taken place show that the treatment is most effective when used within six hours of the stroke and could increase recovery rate from one in 13 to one in ten.
Last year the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) approved the procedure as a way to buy more time for the doctors to treat patients suffering from heart attacks, often caused by high blood pressure, increasing the chances of survival.
Professor Bruce Campbell, chair of the committee which produced the guidelines for NICE, said that more research is needed to consider therapeutic hypothermia a treatment for brain damage, although the results so far look promising.