Duke Selected to Join Renowned NIH Stroke Network

Duke University’s Department of Anesthesiology is one of six medical institutions in the nation to be selected as a testing laboratory site for the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Stroke Preclinical Assessment Network (SPAN) to assess the efficacy of interventions selected by SPAN to improve long-term stroke outcome.

Duke Anesthesiology’s Huaxin Sheng, MD, and Wei Yang, PhD, FAHA, will lead (as principal investigators) a multidisciplinary team of researchers that spans four departments at Duke, including Yi-Ju Li, PhD, of Duke Anesthesiology, Daniel Laskowitz, MD, and Wuwei Feng, MD, of Duke Neurology, Chris Lascola, MD, PhD, of Duke Radiology, and William Wetsel, PhD, of Duke Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Along with the significance of being selected as a site of the network, the NIH has awarded this Duke team a three-year $1,764,172 U01 grant for their study to evaluate the cerebroprotective effects of promising therapeutic interventions in ischemic stroke. Results will serve as the basis for potential clinical trials to improve long-term neurologic function of stroke survivors.

"The SPAN is an NIH-initiated preclinical trial network that aims to identify promising stroke therapeutics to be tested in the future using the well-established concept of multicenter clinical trial. The Duke team within the Multidisciplinary Brain Protection Program has extensive expertise in preclinical stroke research and is excited to join this network to combat stroke,” says Yang, associate professor in anesthesiology/neurology and director of the department’s Multidisciplinary Brain Protection Program.

Stroke is a severe medical condition that affects nearly 800,000 people in the nation each year, with 87 percent being of ischemic nature. Recent advances in mechanical thrombectomy have substantially increased the number of acute ischemic stroke patients who are eligible for reperfusion therapy. To further improve stroke outcome, there is an urgent need to identify effective cerebroprotective interventions as adjunct treatments to reperfusion therapy after ischemic stroke. SPAN has called for highly promising cerebroprotective interventions to be simultaneously tested in multi-site preclinical settings before advancing to clinical trials. As a preclinical testing site, Duke investigators will perform assessments in animal models of transient ischemic stroke using randomized, controlled and blinded study designs, following the standard study protocols developed with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the SPAN Coordinating Center (CC).

“Stroke is a common disease, but treatment is very limited, and many survivors have functional disabilities. New drugs and therapies have been tested in clinical trials, but unfortunately, most have failed,” says Sheng, associate professor in anesthesiology. “The goal of this program is to screen promising drug candidates for moving into clinical trials and accelerate the translation of the research pipeline. This network is seen as the future for developing new drugs for ischemic stroke; we are proud to serve as a Duke site for SPAN, which recognizes the strengths of our stroke research at Duke.”

Duke Anesthesiology has had an excellent experimental stroke research program for more than three decades. This program was initially established by Dr. David S. Warner in 1993 and became the hub for collaborative research of Duke stroke investigators. After years’ growth, this program has built an efficient research infrastructure for stroke projects. Currently, the program has well-established stroke models that meet the needs of long-term preclinical testing with consideration for relevant biological variables and stroke-related comorbidities. State-of-the-art quantitative behavioral tests and advanced MRI imaging are in place to support clinically relevant outcome assessments. Notably, Sheng has successfully led multiple preclinical stroke projects for drug efficacy testing sponsored by the NIH and pharmaceutical companies.  

“We look forward to seeing how the findings generated by SPAN will accelerate the discovery of promising interventions that can then be successfully advanced into clinical trials to achieve better recovery for stroke patients nationwide,” says Miriam Treggiari, MD, PhD, MPH, Duke Anesthesiology’s vice chair for research. “Stroke is a condition associated with substantial risk of death, disability and societal burden, therefore, it is critical to identify therapies that can improve long-term functional recovery and quality of life following life-changing stroke events.”