Glen Jickling recognized as Barnett Scholar, 'highest-rated National New Investigator' by Heart & Stroke Foundation

UAlberta research for a biomarker to identify patients at risk for future stroke would take stress off health-care system and shows promise to improve patient outcomes.

Shelby Soke - 15 December 2017

UAlberta alumnus and assistant professor Glen Jickling has been named the Heart & Stroke Foundation's 2017/18 Barnett Scholar.

The Henry J. M. Barnett Scholarship is presented annually to the Foundation's highest-rated National New Investigator working in the area of cerebrovascular research. This prestigious award was established to honour Henry J. M. Barnett's exceptional contributions to stroke research, education and patient care in Canada. Jickling also received the Alberta New Investigator award in this competition.

Preventing future strokes

Jickling received the award for his work looking for a biomarker to identify patients with transient ischemic attack (TIA) and identifying the risk of a future stroke in those patients. TIA is a brief episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by loss of blood flow to the focal brain, spinal cord or retina without tissue death.

"The idea is that patients who have an increased risk for a stroke with a TIA have increased activation of their immune system that might increase the likelihood of clot formation and plaque rupture," said Jickling. "It could be a new tool to identify high-risk TIAs that might have a stroke within 90 days and need urgent treatment."

Currently, a TIA patient would have five or 10 minutes of transient neurological symptoms and would go visit their family doctor or an emergency room. It can be very difficult to determine what caused the symptoms. It could be a TIA or mini-stroke, but often it is something else such migraine, seizure, low glucose or fainting.

"It's a very common problem, it's hard to know who has had a TIA and is now at risk for stroke." said Jickling. "Picking those patients out is very challenging. This biomarker would help sort that out."

The biomarker would take stress off the health-care system and improve patient care. One per cent of emergency room visits are patients with transient neurological symptoms where TIA is considered. These cases are mostly dealt with by family physicians or emergency physicians and then referred onto neurology. For neurologists, these patients can make up a big part of their practice.

If a patient is identified as having TIA, they can start treatment such as antiplatelets, cholesterol medicine, blood pressure treatment and physicians can look for artery or heart disease that might cause stroke. Early intervention within the first 24 to 48 hours of the TIA can cut the risk of stroke within 90 days by more than 50 per cent.

"The challenges are that you have to do it fast and health-care systems can't keep up with that demand because it's such a common problem," said Jickling.

Currently, a patient with suspected TIA symptoms needs a brain CT scan and a carotid ultrasound within 24 hours. It is challenging to quickly investigate hundreds of thousands of cases. The biomarker would be a simple blood test that would help streamline the process.

Jickling believes that the research is showing a lot of promise and that the test could be available to physicians in five to 10 years.

Legacy of excellence in stroke research

Past University of Alberta Barnett Scholars are Jerry Yager, Katherine Todd and Kenneth Butcher. They continue to advance stroke research thanks to support from the Heart & Stroke Foundation.