The University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria was awarded $1.8 million by the National Institutes of Health to expand a series of preclinical research studies over the next five years involving ischemic stroke.

Researchers at the UICOMP campus have identified a specific enzyme typically not found in healthy brains but that becomes prevalent following an ischemic stroke. Called MMP-12, or matrix metalloproteinase-12, preventing the production of this molecule after ischemic stroke has shown to prevent continued brain damage.

“What we’ve seen is remarkable and promising in terms of providing a new line of treatment for ischemic stroke,” said Dr. Krishna Kumar Veeravalli, a UICOMP assistant professor in the departments of cancer biology and pharmacology, neurosurgery, and neurology.

Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability, affecting nearly 800,000 people annually. About 85 percent of strokes are categorized as ischemic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel, cutting off blood flow to a part of the brain.

The NIH funding award will assist the stroke research team at UICOMP to test the effect of new therapy on brain damage and neurological recovery in stroke models. Initial studies at UICOMP were supported in part by funding from the OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute.

“This project illustrates the collaborative work by clinicians at OSF HealthCare and research scientists here at the College of Medicine,” UICOMP Regional Dean Dr. Sara Rusch said.

Dr. Veeravalli said the new therapy could be used in conjunction with FDA-approved conventional clot-busting treatment for ischemic stroke. Study results also could see a potential fast-track to patient use. While scientific discoveries often take 12 to 15 years to get to and through approved clinical trials, MMP-12 regulation is already the focus of current clinical trials involving treatment related to respiratory diseases.