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UPEI-AVC Lab Signs Agreement With Korean University For Drug Research

Stroke victims could some day get help from a made-in-P.E.I. drug as Atlantic Veterinary College researchers move closer to trying it out on human patients.

Professor Tarek Saleh’s lab developed a compound to protect the brain during a stroke and recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Mokwon University in South Korea for further research.
Saleh said he was excited to see other people interested in his lab’s work.

“It’s truly a global collaboration,” he said.

When a blood clot stops the flow of blood to the brain, it causes a stroke and cuts off oxygen to the brain.

There is a drug, called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), available to break up the clot, but most stroke victims can’t take it because doctors have a small window of opportunity in which to administer it. Only about five per cent of stroke victims are able to use the clot-busting drug.

The problem, Saleh said, is that free radicals cause damage to the brain when blood flow suddenly returns.

Saleh and his research team created a compound called UPEI-100 that protects the brain from the free radical damage and extends the window of opportunity for doctors to administer TPA, even if the victim doesn’t know when they had the stroke.

The next step is proving the compound’s effectiveness and that’s where research technician Barry Connell comes in. Connell works in a small lab at the veterinary college where injects up to four rats a day with the compound and anesthetizes them before inducing a stroke in them. He does that by inserting three nylon threads under an artery in a rat’s brain to cut off the blood flow. The threads are later removed to allow blood to flow back into the brain to simulate a clot removal. After Connell removes the threads, he also removes the rat’s brain and colours it with a dye to measure how much damage the stroke causes and to determine how much protection the compound gives once blood starts flowing again.

All of the animal testing is done under stringent controls to ensure the test animals are treated in a responsible and ethical manner. Saleh said those tests have shown promising results with the compound made up of natural, plant-based products leading to reduced damage after the blood flow returns. It was that combination of the products that is in pre-clinical trials and got the attention of the lab’s partners in Korea and a bioscience company in Atlanta.

“It’s a hundred-fold more potent if you combine the compounds than if you were to give them individually,” he said.

Trials have already shown the natural products that make up the compound are safe for humans, but human trials for UPEI-100 as a stroke treatment are still a few years away. And while they know the compound created in Charlottetown works, Saleh said his lab doesn’t know why and that’s where Mokwon University comes in.

“That’s why we’re doing testing.”

Connell was the lab’s representative in South Korea where he travelled in March for a ceremonial signing of the memorandum of understanding. When he was there, he was treated like royalty with TV, newspaper and radio outlets all there to cover the signing, Connell said.

“It was more than … I could ever hope could have come out of the work that we do.”

Connell said he has been working in a lab doing research for 35 years and is finally seeing something he helped develop with potential to lead to more than just a scientific paper.

“It’s incredible,” he said.