Everything you need to know about the mobile stroke unit

It seems like something reminiscent of a science fiction movie. A CT scanner built into a mobile laboratory that can deliver life-saving clot-busting medication in the field, rather than needing to wait for arrival to hospital.

It is a game changer. A limb-saver. A lifesaver.

We’ve all heard about strokes. They’re bleeds or clots in the brain that cause devastating neurological consequences, ranging from speech and language problems, to paralysis and even death. But imagine if the word ‘stroke’ no longer evoked such a strong sense of fear. Imagine if a stroke was something we could quickly and easily treat. So much so, that you would rarely meet anyone with a longstanding functional impairment as a result of one.

In a stroke, time is critical. For every minute after stroke that treatment is delayed, up to 1.9 million brain cells die. As the Stroke Foundation website to aptly puts it, ‘time = brain.’

The innovative research trial, delivered by the Stroke Foundation, the Victorian Government, Ambulance Victoria, University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute is an $8 million pilot project set to begin in 2017.

A mobile stroke unit will contain a specialist stroke team encompassing a neurologist, stroke nurse, radiographer and paramedics to allow rapid evaluation of stroke patients. In addition, the heavily equipped ambulance will have a CT scanner on board, allowing the healthcare team to identify a bleed in the brain before the patient even arrives at hospital.

The mobile stroke unit (MSU) is equipped to deliver medication called thrombolysis: clot-busting drugs that can save the lives of stroke victims. Assuming a patient has the particular type of stroke amenable to thrombolysis (i.e. a clot rather than a bleed), the quicker the medication is delivered, the better the outcome.

The rapid care that an MSU could provide your grandparent, father, sister, daughter or friend could quite literally mean the difference between life and death.

“For Australian stroke patients receiving thrombolysis, only 26% receive it within 60 minutes of arriving to hospital. This is significantly below our international counterparts like USA (43%) and UK (56%).”

Given that the treatment is more effective if given earlier, the introduction of these MSUs could mean reduced levels of disability for patients and improved long-term recovering for stroke survivors.

Like any treatment, there are a number of potential limitations. Haemorrhagic strokes – bleeds in the brain – should not be treated with thrombolysis. So for these patients, surgical treatment is often needed, which obviously cannot be delivered in the back of an ambulance. Yet as the majority of strokes are ischaemic, the MSU can still help a large portion of stroke sufferers

Additionally, the CT used in these ambulances is often a basic and rudimentary CT scanner, without the ability to visualise smaller vessels in the brain, or sensitively pick up subtle changes in the brain tissue that would be seen on an MRI.

However despite these limitations, the MSU is certainly a promising project. The information and data collected by the team on board will no doubt shape the future of stroke treatment in Australia.

For more information on the project and for about how you can get involved, visit https://strokefoundation.org.au/What-we-do/Research/Stroke Ambulance

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Doctus Project.