Skin patch costing 39p could save the lives of stroke patients

A skin patch costing as little as 39p could revolutionise stroke treatment, significantly increasing the chances of survival (The Guardian, 2017). The patch contains glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which lowers blood pressure and opens up blood vessels, helping reduce the damage caused in the immediate minutes and hours following a stroke.

A small trial of forty one randomised patients in and around Nottingham found that administering the patch to a patient’s shoulder or back while they were travelling to hospital halved the stroke death rate from 38% to 16%. As a result, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has funded the University of Nottingham researchers who developed the patch to work with seven ambulance services to trial it and chart patients’ recovery over twelve months. Paramedics can administer the patch in the ambulance before arrival in A&E, saving vital time.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, the BHF’s medical director, said “Current treatment for stroke is fairly limited and patients are dying or suffering life-changing disabilities as a result. This trial uses a simple patch that can be applied rapidly by paramedics as soon as they reach the patient. If successful, this could revolutionise treatment for stroke patients across the UK and potentially globally and could be a huge step forward in the advancement of stroke treatment which currently lags behind heart attack treatment.”

There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, according to the Stroke Association, and the BHF says 40,000 people die as a result annually, making it the country’s fourth biggest killer. One in eight strokes are fatal in the first thirty days. The cost to the NHS and social care system is estimated at £2bn a year in England and research has suggested the cost to society as a whole in the UK is £9bn. Funding for stroke research, which was £56m in 2012, is approximately a tenth of the £544m spent on cancer research. Cancer’s cost to the health and social care system is estimated at £5bn a year.

GTN is used for chest pain associated with angina, but the use of the drug for treating hyperacute stroke is new and the researchers believe they are the only people in the world testing it. Professor Philip Bath, a BHF researcher from the University of Nottingham, said “We believe that by improving blood flow in the brain in stroke patients we can dramatically improve their survival chances and recovery. This patch enables us to do this within minutes and early trials have been very promising.”

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