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Brno research institutes team up to improve stroke treatment and diagnosis

A new research group consisting of seven institutes has been founded to improve the development of new drugs and procedures to treat and diagnose strokes.

The Stroke Research Group in Brno is the largest such research consortium in Central Europe. It brings together several basic and applied research institutes, hospitals, and a biotech company. The group’s objective is to develop new methods for diagnosing and treating certain types of strokes within approximately 10 years.

This interdisciplinary group consists of the International Clinical Research Center of St. Anne’s University Hospital Brno (FNUSA-ICRC), the Institute of Biophysics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Loschmidt Laboratories of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Masaryk University and FNUSA-ICRC, the Institute of Scientific Instruments of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the Veterinary Research Institute (VRI), the Masaryk Institute of Oncology, and the company BioVendor.

Experts from these institutes will join forces to focus on new possibilities for treating strokes, the second-leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of disability in adults. In the Czech Republic 25,000 people per year suffer strokes and nearly 10,000 die.

“Strokes are most often caused when blood vessels in the brain become blocked. Our work focuses on diagnosing and effectively removing blood clots. An interdisciplinary approach is necessary so that we can better combine laboratory research with the needs of patients and so that we are able to more quickly and more effectively propose new treatments, from ‘concept to pill,’” states Robert Mikulík, the founder of the research group and the head of the cerebrovascular research programme at FNUSA-ICRC and an employee of the MU Faculty of Medicine.

Searching for new enzymes to dissolve blood clots

These institutes have already been collaborating for some time and have taken part in several research projects together. Each member of the research group focuses on a different stage in research and development. Loschmidt Laboratories works on protein engineering with the objective of finding and potentially modifying new enzymes that can be used for dissolving blood clots in the brain. This is the most common form of stroke treatment. Only about 5 percent of stroke patients undergo an invasive procedure in which the blood clot is removed mechanically with a catheter.

“The thrombolytics that are currently used to break up blood clots can effectively remove 20 to 30 percent of clots. The bigger and more serious the clot, the lower the chance this treatment will work. Therefore, there is great room for improvement here, and every increase in how much of a clot we can break up means progress,” adds Mikulík.

Currently, human enzymes are used as thrombolytics. In addition to trying to improve existing drugs that have been approved for clinical use, scientists are also seeking elsewhere. “We are currently looking for new enzymes for breaking up clots in the brain in animals such as dolphins, vampire bats, and primates,” says Jiří Damborský, head of Loschmidt Laboratories. First, researchers search for animal enzymes that are similar to human ones in global databases and then, using their own software tools, examine the possibilities for changing these enzymes to make them more effective in the human body.

Once Masaryk University scientists have selected an enzyme, they begin working on it in the research group’s laboratories. For example, the VRI concentrates on nanopharmacology, the development of carriers for substances used in research and diagnostic imaging, and testing novel treatments on animal models. The Institute of Biophysics tests new enzymes on 3D-printed models of the human brain, where the creation and dissolution of blood clots can be simulated. BioVendor helps produce newly selected enzymes and develops new diagnostic kits and treatments.

New diagnostic methods and treatments

“We have a unique opportunity to contribute to the entire process of researching and developing new pharmacological products or systems for diagnosing strokes,” says Michal Kostka, the CEO of BioVendor, adding that thanks to cooperation with the other members of the research group his team has access to much more information, which speeds up the final stage of production. The FNUSA-ICRC, among other things, can conduct clinical studies, which are necessary but demanding. Due to the time-consuming nature of medical research and bringing new drugs to the market, Robert Mikulík expects the first outputs in 10 years at the earliest.

The members of the Stroke Research Group in Brno have long been focused on developing pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, and nanosystems for diagnosing and treating strokes, as well as new procedures for diagnosing strokes. They collaborate with international experts from Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus, Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, and the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
Scientists are currently looking for new enzymes to break up blood clots in animals such as dolphins, vampire bats, and primates.