Striking back against stroke

By MICHAEL LASALANDRA
Photos by KEELIN DALY

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Rhodemann Li, left, and Clay Larsen co-founded Vesselon to offer the world's first immediate stroke treatment.

Stroke—the cause of more global deaths annually than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined—is a fast killer, claiming a life in the United States nearly every three minutes. Now a medical tech company from Connecticut aims to deliver a faster solution.

Vesselon (www.vesselon.com) is developing a revolutionary clot-busting technology that can be administered by paramedics at the victim’s home or on the way to the hospital in an ambulance—without requiring a brain scan first.

For 15 million victims every year, “We think it is going to change the world of stroke treatment,” said Rhodemann Li, Vesselon’s executive vice president and co-founder.

Kits would be carried in ambulances, and the treatment could be administered by first responders en route to the hospital, saving precious time, which is crucial for success in stroke treatment. The device also could be used in hospitals on patients who don’t qualify for tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator), a naturally occurring enzyme that serves as a clot buster.

TPA must be given intravenously within three hours of the onset of the stroke, and only after the patient is given a brain scan to ensure the stroke is not caused by a hemorrhage. As a result, only about 3 percent of victims are given the drug because most don’t get to the hospital within the three-hour window or because they can’t tolerate it for any number of reasons including risk of bleeding.

Vesselon’s treatment concept is much like that of the automated external defibrillator, the device that has saved the lives of so many heart attack victims since becoming commonplace in recent years.

“We’re calling our device an defibrillator for stroke,” Li said. “This is by far and away the most exciting concept that I’ve ever been involved with or have seen in 20 years in the medical technology field. It can benefit so many people. Think of how many lives defibrillators have saved.

Vesselon’s idea of a portable, in-the-field stroke treatment is the first of its kind. The kit contains a box called a Vessex, a portable ultrasound machine that sends out energy pulses delivered to the brain through two “stroke pads” attached to the skull. Then gas-filled micro-bubbles are delivered intravenously to the circulatory system. The pulses agitate the micro-bubbles when they meet the clot in the brain. “They’re a lot like ‘Scrubbing Bubbles’ and they dissolve the clot,” Li said. “The sooner this can be done, the better off the patient is going to be.”

“We will be saving lives and also quality of lives. Our device has the potential to treat many more victims than are being treated today and it will treat them more quickly. And we think it will be very cost effective.”

Micro-bubbles were designed to enhance ultrasound images but they have more recently been found to have therapeutic uses.

“This has the potential to remake the whole stroke treatment field, to change the whole ballgame,” said Dr. George C. Newman, chairman of the Department of Neurosensory Sciences and director of the Stroke Program at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Newman noted that where stroke is concerned, “time is brain,” meaning that the quicker the victim gets treatment, the better the chances that brain function will be retained. For every minute left untreated, the brain loses 1.9 million neurons. For every hour left untreated, the brain loses as many neurons as it would in 3.6 years of normal aging.
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