Urgent research is needed to explore the link between coronavirus and stroke at a time when almost three quarters of stroke research projects funded by the Stroke Association have been suspended because of the pandemic.

The charity is warning of a catastrophic knock on effect for stroke research, which could delay access to important new life-changing treatments that allow people to rebuild their lives after stroke.

Over the past 30 years the charity has played a crucial role in supporting stroke research in the UK. Last year, the charity invested over £2 million into stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation which is now under threat.

Lack of funding for research is now a ticking-time bomb

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Research Director at the Stroke Association said: “Our work lay the foundations for one of the most successful public health awareness campaigns in England, the Act FAST campaign, which helps people to recognise the signs and symptoms of stroke. We also funded early research into the new emergency stroke treatment, thrombectomy, the manual removal of stroke-causing blood clots. This has seen many patients spared the most devastating effects of stroke. Patients who otherwise could have lost the ability to walk and talk still can.  

“But a lack of funding for research is now a ticking-time bomb. If we don’t act now the coronavirus pandemic could set back stroke research for years to come. The research community will struggle to get projects back up and running, but it’s vital for every stroke survivor and their loved ones that we do.”

Findings from the charity’s survey also reveal the broader impacts that the pandemic has had on stroke researchers:

  • One in five researchers (22%) will need more funding.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of researchers have said they need to make changes to their studies for their projects to continue. This could have added cost implications and change what the researchers had initially set out to achieve.
  • One in five (18%) research projects had team members redeployed to front line work NHS working, for example as neurologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Hard to resume certain stroke projects 

Dr Lucy Dipper at City University, London is in the final stages of testing a new treatment for stroke survivors with communication difficulties. She said: “We couldn’t continue testing our new treatment face-to-face. But we couldn't just stop. The stroke survivors taking part in this research have a communication difficulty and could miss out on essential treatment. They may be at risk of not receiving enough treatment and be even more vulnerable to isolation at this time.

The project team decided to move the treatment online. This hugely disrupted our plans and we needed extra funding to extend the time we have to involve more people in a different way than we had planned. We’re extremely passionate about this project and that's why we leapt so quickly to make changes. The whole team just want it to continue. We’re putting our all into it, heart and soul. It hasn’t been an easy time but we’re really grateful to the Stroke Association for their continued support. It’s only with funding by the charity that we can do this research that can change how people affected by stroke are treated for communication difficulties that are all too common.”

Dr Ahmed adds: “Stroke continues to strike every five minutes and as risk of stroke increases with age, it remains one of the greatest health challenges in our society. People can rebuild their lives after stroke but there is still much we don’t know. Research is crucial to find out why people are struggling, and new ways to overcome the challenges that millions of people affected by stroke face every day. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt by stroke survivors and researchers for years to come."

For more news and articles on stroke go to our neurology section