Studies Seek to Improve Stroke Diagnoses, Care – And Prevent Stokes


Researchers with the Seton/UT Southwestern Clinical Research Institute, led by Executive Director Steven Warach, MD, will explore how stroke diagnosis and patient care can improve dramatically – and subsequent strokes can be prevented – using two new, advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin.


For example, one study under way addresses the critical concern about when someone has a stroke while sleeping at night. Ascertaining the precise moment when a stroke occurs can make a difference in successfully treating a patient. Researchers are investigating whether the time can be determined using MRIs. Computerized tomography (CT) scans, which are traditionally used for stroke patients, cannot precisely determine when strokes happen.

Starting later this year, a second study will compare patients whose treatment involved MRIs to those whose treatment involved CT scans. Researchers want to see if patients’ long-term medical outcomes are better and if overall medical costs are lower if MRIs are used, even though MRI scans are more costly than CT scans.

A third study, also scheduled to start later this year, will look at whether data provided by MRIs can help ensure stroke patients are diagnosed correctly and can prevent a stroke patient from having subsequent strokes. For example, a blood thinner may be prescribed to a stroke patient to prevent further blood clots, but blood thinner might cause bleeding in the brain. Can MRIs detect when blood thinner is a good idea and when it can do harm?

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians with Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services will play key roles in these studies, along with physicians working in the Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin emergency department.

The timing of this announcement is appropriate: May is American Stroke Month, so designated by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

The MAGNETOM Skyra and MAGNETOM Aera MRIs, built by Siemens Healthcare, were installed last January. Weighing a combined 15 tons and valued at $4.5 million, the two new MRIs were purchased by Ascension Seton to foster advanced patient care and medical research not just for stroke, but also in treating heart ailments, epilepsy and breast cancer. Funds continue to be raised by the Ascension Seton Development Board to pay for the MRIs and related construction costs.

The three Ascension Seton stroke studies herald a growing medical research partnership with The University of Texas at Austin, which is building its new Dell Medical School on the southeast corner of campus, next to where the new Ascension Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas at Austin will be built.

All three studies stem from earlier research performed for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by Warach, a neurologist who was an NIH senior investigator before joining Ascension Seton in October 2011.

Last week, Warach was awarded the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine Fellowship for 2014 at the organization’s annual meeting, held this year in Milan, Italy.