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Our research is saving lives, tomorrow we might save yours

Over 9000 New Zealander’s suffer from strokes every year. Using the Endovascular Clot Retrieval method, many of these people could return home unharmed provided they reach medical attention quickly.

Professor Alan Barber, the Neurological Foundation Chair of Clinical Neurology at Auckland Hospital is leading life changing stroke treatment which is helping more people live longer, better lives after a stroke.

Funded by the Neurological Foundation, we need to raise $415,000 each year to ensure that Professor Barber and his team are able to continue taking cutting edge research and applying it in clinical settings, so that more Kiwis can go home after a stroke.

For 10 years now, Professor Alan Barber has taken the cutting edge research being done at the University of Auckland, translating that research into miraculous new clinical treatments across the road at Auckland Hospital.

An affable and confident character, Professor Barber is the Neurological Foundation Chair of Clinical Neurology, a position set up in 2008 to bridge the gap between researchers and clinicians. Back then, Barber was already a world-class Neurologist and director of the Auckland Hospital Stroke Service.

In late 2007, the Neurological Foundation and the University of Auckland began searching for their Inaugural Chair of Clinical Neurology. The appointee would need a broad skillset, as talented a clinician as they were a researcher, and an academic qualified to hold a professorship at one of the world’s foremost medical schools. The eventual appointee, Alan Barber, stood out from the list of candidates. Barber, at the time, divided himself between his clinical position at Auckland Hospital and what was already a burgeoning academic career, holding an Associate Professorship at Auckland University and with a growing list of publications to his name.

The appointment came in 2008, starting Professor Barber on what is now a decade-long crusade to improve the outcomes of patients with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke and epilepsy. His research, which now encompasses a large team of professionals both from the ADHB and Auckland University, is focused on the sole goal of treating, managing and hopefully curing neurological disorders to improve the lives of sufferers.

Today, it’s hard to steal time with the ever-busy Barber, who often finds himself giving talks at opposite ends of the country in a single day. His research work, and the resulting protocol implementation, has long since expanded beyond the Bombay Hills and now influences the work being done across New Zealand.

It’s not all theoretical either. Barber has found significant media exposure recently for one ground-breaking stroke treatment being performed by his stroke team and the neuroradiologists at Auckland Hospital. It’s called Endovascular Clot Retrieval, and Barber describes it as a “Game Changer.”

Every year an estimated 8000-9000 New Zealanders suffer strokes, an often debilitating attack on the brain where brain cells die off due to lack of oxygen from blood flow. Strokes can be divided into one of two categories, those that are haemorrhagic (caused by blood vessels rupturing in the brain) and those that are ischaemic (caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to part of the brain). It’s the latter that the miraculous ECR treatment is concerned with.

“It’s not rocket science…” says Barber, wryly. “We knew that strokes were caused by a blocked artery, and if you open up the artery you get blood back in the brain and it doesn’t die.”

When a clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain, those brain cells begin to die. Surrounding blood vessels can act as a temporary back up providing oxygen to the affected cells, but if blood flow isn’t restored within a few hours it’s likely the damage will be permanent. A catheter is fed through the femoral artery in the groin, up into the patient’s brain and into the offending clot. Doctors then feed the retrieval device, a mesh-like substance, up through the catheter where it attaches itself to the clot. When the device is removed, it takes the clot with it, restoring blood flow to the affected region.

The procedure was perfected at Auckland City Hospital where Barber and his team were able to treat more patients over the past year than all of London. The time sensitive nature of the retrieval previously meant that only patients immediately surrounding Auckland could benefit. However with neurologists now implementing the procedure in Christchurch and Wellington, almost all New Zealanders are today within a helicopter’s range of potentially life-saving treatment.

One in every five people who receive the treatment will return home as healthy as they were before the stroke occurred. “In five years time...” says Professor Barber “each year at least 200 more people across New Zealand will be going home and living independent lives after being treated with Endovascular Clot Retrieval.”

It’s innovations like the retrieval process that make the Chair of Clinical Neurology so valuable says Neurological Foundation CEO Rich Easton. “Every year we fund millions of dollars worth of research projects into investigating neurological disorders, which hopefully will lead to clinical treatments in the future but often that can be years away. What’s so fantastic about Alan’s position is you get to bridge the gap between the researchers and the clinicians, so you can take that science and what’s being discovered in universities and start to put it into practice.”

It’s a function that Professor Barber will hopefully fill for years to come, with the Neurological Foundation this year committing $2.2 Million Dollars to not only fund the role for another five years, but also to take on a new research fellow. The “Neurological Foundation Clinical Research Fellow” will work with Barber to carry out much of the leg work for his research.

One of the main aims of the new fellow position is to “train and retain” the best people in New Zealand says Easton. “Alan has been a fantastic inaugural Chair, the clinical advancements he’s made are today saving lives which was the vision for this role from the start. By providing additional support for to fund a Fellowship, our goal is twofold, to provide Alan more support so that he can continue the amazing work he has done so far, and to provide new opportunities for the next generation to learn and develop.”

Even the most productive professor cannot do transformational research without someone to actually do the basic work and help achieve the research vision. Introducing a Clinical Fellow (a current or future neurologist, or other clinician) into research has the potential to improve the lives of patients though research-based improvements in clinical care. It will grow research capability and drive a step change in the Neurology Research Unit's outputs whilst helping to train and retain the next generation of clinician researchers in New Zealand.

Our brain research is saving lives, tomorrow we might save yours.

DONATE NOW - You can help us to make a difference by supporting our fundraising campaign for the Chair of Clinical Neurology. You can make a donation to this campaign at any time via our website at neurological.org.nz/online-donation or by calling us on Free call 0508 BRAINS (0508 272 467).

Video from Professor Alan Barber, detailing his current work can be found at https://youtu.be/z2OVLcYaY54


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