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Research, technology key to preventing strokes

But doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, and elsewhere, are experimenting with several new stroke medications —  some injected directly into the brain. NBC's Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell reports.

CLEVELAND — The images are spectacular. They allow doctors to see precisely what has gone wrong in the blood vessels in the brain leading to a stroke.

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Thomas Masaryk points to the most common cause of stroke as shown in the image.

“There's an interruption in the blood vessel here, which is from a clot,” he says.

Only one drug is now approved to dissolve brain clots. But doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, and elsewhere, are experimenting with several new ones — some injected directly into the brain. They are also trying devices to grab hold of the clot and pull it out. With every treatment, the goal is to stop or limit damage to the brain. When the stroke is in progress, every minute counts.

For patients with the other kind of stroke, bleeding in the brain, researchers are trying to cool the brain to slow down the loss of brain cells.

Dr. Peter Rasmussen, a neurosurgeon, says stroke therapy still has a long way to go. 

“We're really in the infancy of emerging treatment for stroke — in this country and around the world,” Rasmussen says. “There's tremendous opportunities for advancement here.”

There are success stories.

Patricia Kettler remembers her minor stroke.

“I was dizzy all the time and I had headaches,” she says.

When doctors ordered an MRI they found two giant aneurysms — weak spots on blood vessels that could burst — causing massive bleeding.  Dr. Rasmussen's team was able to put in 10 metal devices — clamps and stents — to shore up the vessels. 

Rasmussen was able to tell Kettler, “You've got it taken care of. I don't think you to need to come back and see us any more.”

The hope is that additional research will allow many more people to escape the devastating consequences of stroke.