Neuroscience

To Prevent Stroke, Start with the Heart

Posted on Feb 13, 2020 in Affiliates, Cardiac, Carousel, Expanding Access, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, We're Awesome, Women's Services

BURLINGAME, Calif. – Does it sometimes feel like there are butterflies in your chest? Does your heart race or skip a beat? If it’s not your crush making your heart go pitter-pat, it could be a common heart condition called atrial fibrillation or AFib for short. This Valentine’s Day, take heart and consider seeing an expert if you are experiencing these symptoms. After all, AFib dramatically increases the odds of having a life-threatening stroke.

“Stroke occurs when arteries in the brain are either blocked by a blood clot or burst under high pressure,” said Ilana Spokoyny, M.D., neurologist who cares for patients at Sutter’s Mills-Peninsula Medical Center. “So when we talk about stroke prevention, it’s natural that we emphasize how to keep clots from forming or keep blood pressure regulated—and both start with the heart.”

Heart health and stroke prevention were the focus of a recent educational event, hosted by United Airlines, and led by Sutter Health. Attendees toured Northern California’s only Mobile Stroke Unit – a specialized ambulance that has the staff and equipment on-board to start stroke treatment while enroute to a hospital – and heard from the unit’s director, Dr. Spokoyny, about two common heart conditions that increase stroke risk.

Atrial fibrillation

AFib is caused when the upper part of your heart beats out of sync with the lower half. While not usually life-threatening by itself, AFib alters the normal function of the heart which leads to the formation of blood clots in the heart. Eventually these clots are pumped out of the heart and can travel to the brain where they causes a stroke.

According to Dr. Spokoyny, nearly one in every six strokes is the result of AFib, and these strokes are often more serious. “Not only are AFib patients nearly five times more likely to suffer a stroke than those without the condition, AFib-related strokes are nearly twice as fatal and twice as disabling as non-AFib-related strokes.”

“AFib may be asympomatic or symptoms show up intermittently, and because they come and go many people don’t take them seriously,” Dr. Spokoyny explained. “We need to spread the word that you shouldn’t ignore the butterfly feeling in your chest or dismiss the occasional fatigue or shortness of breath you experience.” When diagnosed, AFib is treatable with medication or medical procedures, including surgery, to reduce your risk of stroke.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure increases the strain on blood vessels transporting blood throughout your body. When blood is routinely pumped through arteries at a higher than optimal pressure, the arteries may become weakened or narrowed, creating conditions where they burst or clog more easily.

Dr. Spokoyny reminds patients that high blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke. “About three out of four people who have a stroke for the first time have high blood pressure.” High blood pressure often presents along with atrial fibrillation. The good news is that blood pressure can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.

Expertise in action

Not-for-profit Sutter Health encourages doctors to work across specialties to ensure that patients receive high quality, coordinated care. Sutter includes sixteen Primary Stroke Centers across its integrated network.

Happy Ending to Librarian’s Story, Thanks to Coordinated Care

Posted on Feb 12, 2020 in Affiliates, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Neuroscience, Quality, Scroll Images

BERKELEY, Calif. –When retired UC Berkeley librarian Barbara Kornstein walked into her neighborhood bakery for pastry and coffee on a recent January morning, she never imagined that within moments her fellow patrons would be calling 911 for help after she suffered a stroke and fell from her chair. Fortunately, a dedicated team of first responders, nurses and doctors were close by to coordinate the treatment that would save Kornstein’s life.

Within 30 minutes from the 911 call to the Berkeley Fire Department, Kornstein was evaluated by a doctor with special training in stroke management in the emergency department at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, part of the Sutter Health not-for-profit network of care.

After undergoing a CT scan, Kornstein received clot-dissolving medication and was quickly transferred to the hospital catheterization lab, where a neurologist specially trained in neurointervention removed the blood clot from her brain through a minimally invasive procedure that significantly reduces the risk of stroke-related disability and death.

“Barbara is doing remarkably well thanks to the seamless coordination of care that she received at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s Regional Stroke Center,” says Brian Richardson, M.D., medical director of Alta Bates Summit’s stroke program. “Our program is nationally recognized for ensuring stroke patients receive life-saving intervention urgently upon arrival. Barbara’s story is just one example of our commitment to making sure stroke patients receive the very best care possible.”

“I go to the New York International Film Festival every year and I’m so glad that I will be able to attend this year’s festival in September,” says Kornstein. “I’m feeling great and I’m so thankful for all the people that helped saved my life.”

A few days after her stroke, Barbara was resting comfortably in the Alta Bates Summit Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit in Oakland when she received a visit from Chris Barney and Nick Scornaich from the Berkeley Fire Department who were the first to respond to the 911 call. Barney and Scornaich were joined by members of the Alta Bates Summit Emergency Department, Cath Lab, Intensive Care Unit, Regional Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Center and surgery teams that all played a part in Kornstein’s care.

“It’s wonderful and a bit overwhelming to meet all the people who cared for me,” says Kornstein. “I’m glad that I live so close and have access to such great medical care.”

“It’s quite moving to see everyone that had a touch in Barbara’s care shower her with love and words of encouragement,” says Debra Blanchard, R.N., Stroke Center Coordinator at Alta Bates Summit. “She’s doing great and it’s a testament to our first responders and our stroke team for their ability to provide timely treatment so that people who suffer strokes have the potential to have great outcomes like Barbara.”

Quelling the storms of seizures in people with epilepsy: Part 2 of a series highlighting Sutter epilepsy research

Posted on Nov 13, 2019 in Affiliates, California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

Epilepsy—a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain—impacts almost 3.4 million nationwide. Despite advances in epilepsy treatment, approximately one-third of adults with the illness experience recurrent seizures. Read more to learn how Sutter researchers are uncovering new clues about how epilepsy develops and how it can be treated more effectively.

Stimulating the brain with neuromodulation

“Neuromodulation” is a technique that stimulates the brain or spinal cord with electrical pulses or chemicals. When used to treat epilepsy, the approach may be used as an alternative to traditional epilepsy surgical approaches or to work in synergy with them.

David King-Stephens, M.D., FAAN, Director of the Sutter Pacific Epilepsy Program in San Francisco, and Peter Weber, M.D., the program’s surgical director, were instrumental in the testing and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval in 2013 of one type of neuromodulation, the Responsive Neuromodulation System® (RNS) developed by NeuroPace.

Similar to a pacemaker that monitors and responds to heart rhythms, the RNS® System is a medical device implanted in the skull that monitors and responds to brain activity to help prevent seizures. The device is approximately the size of a stopwatch.    

CPMC was the highest enrolling site in the RNS® System Pivotal Study—a national, multicenter clinical trial of the RNS® System for the treatment of uncontrolled seizures in adults with epilepsy.

Peter Weber, MD“Many patients experience a 70-80% reduction in seizure frequency, and the severity of seizures is also significantly reduced,” says Dr. Weber, lead neurosurgeon at Sutter for the RNS® System clinical trial. He notes that the RNS® System plus medication-based treatment is usually, for these patients, superior to standard medical management alone.

Now, nine-years after completion of the pivotal study, follow-up data is still being collected and assessed. “Results show that, for many patients, the RNS® System led to substantial reductions in seizures, with additional benefits such as improved quality of life, cognition, and memory,” says Dr. Weber.  The RNS® System is also now available at the Sutter Sacramento Epilepsy Center.

Targeting the epicenter of epileptic seizures

To understand the nuances of a seizure, researchers study the brain cells (neurons) that misfire and cause the underlying electrical storm. When a seizure occurs, networks of brain cells involved in the seizure begin pulsing abnormally, leading to the symptoms patients experience during a seizure.

Anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are designed to modify the way neurons “fire” and how they communicate with each other and the brain’s network, thereby stopping or preventing seizures. AEDs are categorized by their main mechanism of action, although many of them have several actions and others have unknown mechanisms of action. Most of these medications are anticonvulsants or sedative medications.

There is currently no FDA-approved AED that targets potassium channels that help regulate the communications between neurons involved in the cascade of synaptic events that promote seizures.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial called Xenon 1101, sponsored by Xenon Pharmaceuticals, is underway to test a new anticonvulsant that acts on potassium voltage-gated channels.

“The potassium channel is a novel area of epilepsy study and one that offers potential to prevent seizures through agents that target it,” says Dr. Laxer, principal investigator of the trial at CPMC with co-investigator Dr. King-Stephens. “Our epilepsy program is the only center in Northern California evaluating this new anticonvulsant.”

Three hundred patients will be enrolled in the Xenon clinical trial from enrolling sites across the U.S., Canada, Spain, and the UK.

Stay tuned later this month for Part 3 of this series on Sutter epilepsy research, which will include information on laser ablation surgery.

Read Part 1, which described new ways to map and monitor brain activity in people with epilepsy.

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Quelling the Storms of Seizures in People with Epilepsy

Posted on Nov 1, 2019 in Affiliates, California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, Transformation, Uncategorized

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – An electrical “storm” in the brain causes seizures in people with epilepsy, producing symptoms that may include lapses in consciousness, twitching or jerking movements, weakened or limp muscles, spasms, blurred vision, experiencing unusual smells or tastes, and changes in sensation or emotions.

Epilepsy—a neurological disorder caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain—impacts almost 3.4 million nationwide.1 Despite advances in epilepsy treatment, approximately one-third of adults with the illness experience recurrent seizures.2

Epileptic seizures are generally categorized into three main groups: generalized (affecting both sides of the brain), focal (seizures that start in one area of the brain), and those that could start anywhere.

The stormy weather of seizures can clear with medications called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). AEDs can to stop seizures from occurring, but they do not always lead to a remission or cure epilepsy. With the right AEDs, up to 70% of people with the illness may remain seizure-free, and sometimes may “outgrow” seizures or go into remission. For other people whose seizures are uncontrolled with conventional AEDs, other treatments including surgery may be an option. Surgery may involve removing part of the brain that causes the seizures.

Michael Chez, MD

“Knowing where seizures start in the brain provides us clues into what occurs during a seizure, what other conditions or symptoms may be seen, how they may affect someone and, most importantly, what treatment may be best for that seizure type,” says Michael Chez, M.D., a pediatric neurologist and epileptologist, and Sacramento regional director of pediatric epilepsy and research at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute.

“Life without seizures and improved quality of life is what specialists aim to provide epilepsy patients, through a treatment plan personalized to their particular type of epilepsy and seizures,” says Dr. Chez.

Two Sutter hospitals, California Pacific Medical Center and Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento are renowned for providing patients specialized Level 4 epilepsy care— a designation by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers—guided by leading-edge research. Sutter researchers are uncovering new clues about how epilepsy develops and how it can be treated more effectively.

Sutter examining new ways to ‘map’ and monitor brain activity

Epilepsy is usually diagnosed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG) testing. Those techniques are also used to regularly monitor brain activity in people with the illness. Sutter researchers are studying the use of novel neuroimaging techniques to visualize and track the brain’s electrical activity in people with epilepsy.

For patients with refractory epilepsy (in whom medications are not adequately controlling seizures), a new “high-density” EEG machine is being tested to locate precisely where a patient’s seizures originate in the brain.

“Use of these high-density or high-array EEG machines can help dramatically accelerate research and patient care by identifying the focal point of a seizure,” says Kenneth Laxer, M.D. a researcher in the Sutter Pacific Epilepsy Program at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC).

With more than 40 years’ experience in epilepsy research, Dr. Laxer is renowned for studying neuroimaging techniques including magnetic resonance spectroscopy for the evaluation and management of the illness. With high-density EEGs, the patient wears a net over their head, and the brain’s electrical activity is recorded from 250-plus electrodes. The recordings are combined with the patient’s own high-resolution MRI scan to help localize the seizure focus. Surgeons use these precise images to remove the section of the brain that’s causing the seizures.

“If we pinpoint that abnormal area, we can remove a smaller portion of the abnormal brain tissue and therefore decrease the risk of serious complications from the surgery,” says Dr. Laxer. He notes that 50-70% of patients who undergo a focal resection may become seizure free. “Most of these patients remain on seizure medications, frequently at reduced dosages; however, the goal of surgery is to bring the epilepsy under control—not to stop epilepsy medication use. Patients who undergo such surgeries typically experience improved quality of life.” Stay tuned later this month for Part 2 of this series on Sutter epilepsy research, which will include information on neuromodulation and anti-epileptic medications.

Stay tuned later this month for Part 2 of this series describing epilepsy research at Sutter.

References: 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/about/fast-facts.htm 2. Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures/refractory-seizures SAN .

Lucky Landing: Mobile Stroke Unit Treats Traveler at SFO

Posted on Oct 28, 2019 in Expanding Access, Innovation, Mills-Peninsula Health Services, Neuroscience, Quality, Research, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

BURLINGAME, Calif. – It was a 9-1-1 response three years  in the making.

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Stroke Patient on Integrated Health Network: ‘This Is How Medicine Should Work’

Posted on Oct 25, 2019 in California Pacific Medical Center, Innovation, Neuroscience, Novato Community Hospital, Quality, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

When Patricia Mosier had a stroke, she was worried she wouldn’t be able to stay active. However, the integrated network of care from her community hospital in Novato to the more advanced neuroscience services at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center got her back doing the activities that she loves. “This is how medicine should work,” she says about the continuum of care she received from Sutter’s integrated network. See her story in the following video:

For more on Sutter’s integrated network and how it leads to healthier communities, go to www.sutterhealth.org/newsroom/can-expect-integrated-network.