Australia destined for world’s first stroke air ambulance

Members of the Australian Stroke Alliance with Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt.

Australia is set to save lives and lead the way internationally with the latest innovation in stroke treatment and care – a stroke air ambulance.

Stroke Foundation is a primary partner in The Stroke Golden Hour research project awarded $40 million under Stage Two of the Frontier Health and Medical Research Initiative.

The Stroke Golden Hour project is developing lightweight brain scanners that are more portable, meaning they can be put into ambulances on the roads and in the air.

This will allow rapid diagnosis and treatment to those who have a stroke, saving lives and reducing disability.

This is welcome news for the Bundaberg region, considering 3711 people were living with stroke last year alone, with 210 strokes in the same year.

There are also a high number of people living with stroke risk factors in the area including 31,725 with high blood pressure.

Stroke Foundation CEO Sharon McGowan said the project had the potential to revolutionise treatment of stroke nationally and internationally.

“For too long Australians living in our regional and rural areas have been denied the high-quality stroke treatment provided to their metropolitan based counterparts. Today’s announcement is an exciting step forward in seeing that end,” she said.

“Our country’s broad geography will no longer be a barrier to time-critical stroke treatment.”

Currently regional and rural Australians are overrepresented in stroke statistics.

“More than 27,000 Australians will experience a stroke for the first time this year,” Ms McGowan said.

“Rural and regional Australians are 17 per cent more likely to have a stroke and are more likely to have a poorer outcome due to limited access to stroke specialists, treatments, and care.”

She said that when treating stroke, “time is brain” and treatment needed to be offered within the first few hours, preferably within the first “golden hour”.

In a country the size of Australia, this has been a problem.

“Our solution is to move the stroke unit to the patient, to treat them as early as possible, using home-grown, game-changing technologies,’’ she said.

This research project is led by co-chief investigators Professors Geoffrey Donnan and Stephen Davis at The University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and brings together experts from more than 30 of Australia’s leading health and academic institutes and charities as The Australian Stroke Alliance.

Prof Davis said the aim was to reduce mortality and narrow the urban, rural and Indigenous healthcare gaps.

“Your postcode should not determine your access to world class stroke treatment,” he said.

Prof Donnan said this program had scope to transform stroke treatment around the world.

“It is incredible to be doing work that has the potential to be so revolutionary here in Australia,” he said.

This Federal Government announcement followed an initial $1 million grant, awarded in 2019 through the Medical Research Future Fund, to kickstart the project.

Philanthropic partners have provided an additional $4 million towards the project.