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Chilling treatment offers hope for stroke victims

One company is working on breakthrough advances to give stroke victims hope not just of survival, but of a better recovery using a “real cool” technology.
/ Source: CNBC

About 700,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year. That's one every 45 seconds. It is the No. 3 killer in the U.S. and the leading cause of long-term disability. The cost to the economy: more than $56 billion dollars a year.

But one company is working to offer victims hope not just of survival — but of a better recovery using a “real cool” technology.

Recovering stroke victim Baron McFarland and his wife Linda know he's lucky to be alive.

“I feel very blessed that the technology was there,” he said. “Without it I would have been dead.”

McFarland's odyssey began late last summer with a 911 call from the couple's rural La Plata, Md. home. Next stop was a nearby medical center, where an emergency room doctor told Linda her husband needed more help than he could offer.

“He said, ‘I just want to let you know that the situation that we have here is a very tough situation. You may lose your husband,’” she said.

A helicopter flew McFarland to the Washington Hospital Center, one of the few trauma centers in the country equipped with a new high-tech, non-invasive device called the Arctic Sun. He was immediately hooked up, wrapped up, and cooled down.

“This freezing situation on him, like ice, like he's frozen down and cold as I don't know what,” said Linda McFarland.

Controlled hypothermia
Doctors say the procedure saved his life. The machine cools the body to as low as 91.4degrees and keeps it there sometimes for as long as 24 hours. It's called controlled hypothermia.

“The theory is that as you allow the brain to get cooler — or normothermic — then therefore the brain rests,” said Dr. Dan Herr, Washington Hospital Center's Chief of Critical Care. “And the amount of damage that can progress from the stroke will be limited.”

Denver-based Medivance introduced the Arctic Sun in 2004 after six years of research and development — backed by $24 million dollars in venture capital. CEO Robert Kline said the system relies on several important advances, including a series of special “energy transfer pads.”

“We actually have thousands of little water paths within the pad itself that break up the water and keep it in constant motion,” he said.

Then there's the patented “magic” hydrogel.

“If I put it on the back of my hand, where I have some hair, and pull it off, it does the same thing, very gently it won't pull hair,” said Kline.

Finally, there's the temperature control module, which at the push of a button manages the whole process.

“The doctor doesn't even have to come in to the hospital, he just orders the equipment and the nurses actually implement the therapy,” he said.

That was a top-selling point for Herr at Washington Hospital Center. Seven months since moving the technology into his emergency room, he's seen two stroke patients and 10 cardiac victims come back from death's door.

“We certainly have some good examples of patients that have had severe strokes — to the point that we would think that their neurological recovery would be nil — that have recovered,” he said.

Medivance sees a lot of “hot” opportunities to expand the market for this “cool” device.

They include “neural trauma, cardiac trauma, fever management — all the conditions that exist in every major hospital throughout the world,” said Kline.

Several other privately held companies are competing to come up with the best cooling treatment for stroke victims. Another hot market is the development of diagnostic tools designed to catch strokes before they strike.

Analysts say Siemens, Philips, and General Electric, the parent company of CNBC, are all making big strides in this area.

And finally carotid stents from the likes of Guidant, Boston Scientific, Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson are also playing a bigger role.