(dailyRx News) A common blood pressure medication may actually aid in healing the brain following a stroke. University of Georgia researchers found the drug appears to boost blood vessel growth on the brain's unaffected side.
Most stroke research hasn't examined the presumed healthy and unaffected side of the brain after a stroke has occurred.
Susan Fagan, a professor of clinical and administrative pharmacy at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, said she is excited about the finding because it may allow scientists to harness the restorative properties of the brain's other side through drug therapy.
Doctors and scientists have long debated whether elevated blood pressure should be lowered in stroke patients, especially since it is known that lowering blood pressure too soon after a stroke could lessen necessary supplies of oxygen in the brain.
During the study, researchers induced strokes in two groups of male Wistar rats by blocking a major artery in the brain. A third placebo group, which was not induced for a stroke and did not receive treatment, was used for comparison.
Of the two groups that experienced strokes, one group was given a saline solution, while the other received a dose of blood pressure medication Atacand (candesartan).
Researchers found that rats treated with candesartan showed higher levels of growth factors that help with the formation of new blood vessels in the brain. They also discovered that different types of growth factors dominated different hemispheres in the brain, suggesting that candesartan could have healing properties beyond the area of damage.
Interestingly, investigators also found that rats treated with the drug had increased levels of a "pro-survival" protein in both sides of the brain. The protein helps brain neurons survive insults such as a stroke, and also can help individuals live a longer life.
Fagan noted that doctors suggest patients go to rehabilitation after a stroke to retain and make new brain connections so that their function will be restored.
"Maybe it's because the other hemisphere takes over," Fagan said. "If we could stimulate that with drug therapy and make it even more so, it would help lots of people."
Fagan plans to pursue additional research to calculate which drugs and at what doses could provide protection to the brain's blood vessels without also lowering blood pressure.
The pre-clinical study was recently published in journal PLoS ONE.