Western University team awarded $100,000 to try to improve stroke rates in Africa

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Grand Challenges Canada Stars in Global Health program asked researchers for "bold ideas for humanity" and it got just that from Dr. David Spence and Dr. Daniel Hackam of Western University. The two have been named Stars in Global Health and today received a grant worth $100,000 for the next two years to address the problem of resistant hypertension in Africa. It's research that will also help African-Canadians who have twice the risk of stroke as other Canadians.

Resistant hypertension is defined as blood pressure higher than 140/90 despite at least three medications, and it's is a major cause of stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. It's a particular problem in Africa. The researchers will compare usual care of hypertension with individualized treatment for patients at four hypertension clinics in Africa. They will also do genetic testing to try to pinpoint the genes responsible.

"We expect to increase the proportion of patients with resistant hypertension who achieve control over their hypertension from 30% to more than 80%, and thereby, reduce the risk of stroke, renal failure and heart failure by more than half," says Dr. Hackam, a scientist at Western's Robarts Research Institute and an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine, Clinical Neurological Sciences, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "We will start with a proof of principle study and then do a larger randomized clinical trial involving 40 patients each from four clinics in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa."

"The original idea for this project came from what I learned from seeing black patients from North Buxton, an Ontario community descended from slaves who escaped the United States through the underground railway." says Dr. Spence, Professor of Neurology and Clinical Pharmacology, and Director of the Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre (SPARC) at Robarts. "By tailoring therapy to the individual physiology of the patient, we expect to achieve much better control of hypertension."

The project involves the latest in technology including telemedicine, and point-of-care devices that can be powered by solar energy for use in remote clinics to measure an enzyme called plasma renin which helps regulate blood pressure and a steroid hormone called aldersterone that stimulates the absorption of sodium by the kidneys. Diagnostics Biochem Canada is donating the renin and aldosterone kits, and the gene sequencing will be carried out at the London Regional Genomics Centre at Robarts.

The Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) Stars in Global Health program is funded by the Government of Canada. CEO Peter Singer says "Canada's commitment to bold ideas with big impact is captured in each of these 102 peer-reviewed projects. By matching talent with opportunity, Grand Challenges Canada is contributing to saving and improving lives." Click here for more information. To see the video application for this project, click here.