Cerebral Atherosclerosis: Hardening of the Arteries of the Brain
Guest: Dr. Tanya Turan – Neurosciences, MUSC
Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry, MUSC
Dr. Linda Austin: Dr. Tanya Turan is Assistant Professor of Neurology here at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Turan, in this podcast, we’re going to be talking about a very interesting clinical trial, a study that you’re doing looking at metabolic changes in cerebral atherosclerosis. Now, for those who don’t what atherosclerosis is, let’s tackle that word first. Can you explain that, please?
Dr. Tanya Turan: Sure. Atherosclerosis is just a fancy word for hardening of the arteries. And that can happen in arteries throughout the body, including the arteries in the heart, or the arteries going up to the brain; or, actually, the arteries within the brain. This particular project is focused on understanding why we get hardening of the arteries in brain arteries.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, it’s about why we get those changes, not what happens after you get the changes?
Dr. Tanya Turan: Exactly. The goal of the study is to try to understand why some people develop hardening of the arteries inside the brain versus atherosclerosis; or hardening of the arteries, in other distributions.
Dr. Linda Austin: One would think that it would be related to things like cholesterol levels and other markers that are usually high in people with hardening of the arteries. Is that not necessarily so? For example, are there different arteries that may become clogged up, or hardened, in different individuals of the same, let’s say, cholesterol level?
Dr. Tanya Turan: Yes. The traditional vascular risk factors, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, haven’t really given us much insight into why some people develop hardening of the arteries in the brain versus in the neck arteries or in the heart, or arteries in the peripheral system of the body. And, one of the theories is that the brain arteries can’t respond to oxidative stress as well as arteries in the other parts of the body. So, what we’re trying to do with the study is stress the system by giving the body a fat load. That, actually, induces a stress on the lining of the blood vessels and on some of the cholesterol particles that may be different in people with hardening of the arteries in different locations.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, if a person wants to volunteer for this study, first of all, what kind of subject or candidate for the study are you looking for?
Dr. Tanya Turan: We’re looking for adults who’ve had a stroke in the past. Their stroke has to have occurred at least a month ago. The other major exclusion for this study is that they can’t have coronary artery disease that’s known. And they need to have seen a neurologist or primary care physician that’s done a thorough stroke workup so we know what the cause of their stroke is.
Dr. Linda Austin: And, I guess, just to back up, we didn’t mention, in talking about cerebral atherosclerosis, that it can lead to stroke, and that’s why it’s so critically important to understand what, exactly, is going on. I would imagine, then, that these patients get a very thorough evaluation, and might benefit from having that workup, and knowledge, and evaluation.
Dr. Tanya Turan: Yes. It would be considered standard of care to have all of the tests that we require as tests that you need to have prior to entry into the study. Typically, those are tests looking at the blood vessels in the neck and the brain, and looking at the heart, to see if there are any abnormalities there which could have caused a stroke.
Dr. Linda Austin: Do you have an age criteria for people who can be in the study?
Dr. Tanya Turan: We’re looking for people over the age of 40, to age 80.
Dr. Linda Austin: So, it’s a pretty broad group. How many have you recruited so far?
Dr. Tanya Turan: We have about 12 patients that have undergone testing, or have consented to participating in the study, and we’re looking for a total of 45.
Dr. Linda Austin: And, Dr. Turan, if somebody wants to participate in this study, is there a number they can call?
Dr. Tanya Turan: Absolutely. They can reach me or the study coordinator, Genevieve Starr, at (843) 792-3020.
Dr. Linda Austin: Dr. Turan, it sounds like a very interesting and important study. Good luck with it.
Dr. Tanya Turan: Thank you.