UTHealth neurologist Amrou Sarraj receives $1 million grant for stroke research

UTHealth neurologist Amrou Sarraj receives $1 million grant for stroke research

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A $1 million grant for stroke research has been awarded from Stryker Neurovascular to Amrou Sarraj, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Sarraj completed his residency and fellowship at UTHealth, where he began investigating which patients would do best with intra-arterial therapy – the mechanical removal of a blood clot that has stopped blood flow in an artery in the brain, during which a catheter is deployed through an artery in the groin up to the site of the clot.

While still a fellow, Sarraj devised a new scoring method to help physicians determine if a patient is a candidate for intra-arterial therapy. Called the Houston Intra-Arterial Therapy 2 “HIAT2” score, the new method earned him the Mordecai Y.T. Globus New Investigator Award in Stroke from the American Stroke Association (ASA) in 2012.

The dilemma for neurologists is that while intra-arterial therapy re-opens a clogged artery in 80 percent of patients, only 30 percent have an improved outcome.

“Even if you open the vessel, there can be too much damage that has already occurred,” said Sarraj, who is an attending physician at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann. “We need to be able to select the right patients.”

At the recent ASA International Stroke Conference, Sarraj presented new study findings that revealed blood circulation flow, the extent of damage and patient age may be more important than arrival time when physicians are predicting which patients would benefit the most from intra-arterial therapy.

The new grant will fund a multi-institutional study that will evaluate different selection methods currently being used to see which one has the greatest probability of selecting the patients most likely to benefit from intra-arterial therapy. There are potential health care cost savings, he said, by avoiding an unnecessary procedure. The new study is called Optimizing Patient’s Selection for Endovascular Treatment in Acute Ischemic Stroke (SELECT).

“This project has become all the more important as new published studies are beginning to show benefit of endovascular therapy for acute stroke,” said Sean I. Savitz, M.D., professor of neurology and director of the UTHealth Stroke Program and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Stroke Center. “This grant represents the culmination of several years of research that Amrou has been doing. We are very proud of him.”

“Now that endovascular therapy is a proven treatment, future trials should assess strategies to enhance clinical outcomes and optimization of patient selection and SELECT will take the lead,” Sarraj said. “Informing stroke patients’ families on their chances of having good outcomes after intra-arterial therapy is crucial; we hope the study will bring an answer to that”.

Sarraj credits mentors including Savitz; Andrew Barreto, M.D., associate professor of neurology; Jon E. Tyson, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Clinical Research and Evidence-Based Medicine; Kathleen A. Kennedy, M.D., M.P.H., the Richard W. Mithoff Professor of Pediatrics and director of the MS Clinical Research Degree Program; and Charles Green, Ph.D., associate professor at the Center for Clinical Research and Evidence-Based Medicine. Sarraj is a graduate of the masters’ degree research program.

“I would also like to thank Mark Paul and Mark O’Brien for their vision,” Sarraj said. Paul is the president of the Neurovascular Division of Stryker Neurovascular while O’Brien is vice-president of Customer Excellence.

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