Ischemic stroke is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in industrialized countries and is almost always caused by occlusion of a cerebral artery by a clot. As the reversibly injured brain tissue evolves into irreversible infarction within a short period of time after onset of ischemia, it is extremely important and urgent to reverse the serious consequences of brain ischemia in the hyperacute phase when the ischemic brain tissue is still salvageable. Numerous thrombolytic and potentially neuroprotective agents have been studied in stroke patients with little success as the only approved therapy is thrombolysis with recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (r-tPA) within 3 h of stroke onset in highly selected patients (approximately 5 to 10 % of all acute stroke patients). One major obstacle in the development of effective therapies for ischemic stroke has been the lack of versatile imaging techniques. New magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) modalities, specially diffusion- and perfusion-weighted MRI (DWI and PWI, respectively) have been used in experimental studies with great success for over a decade and now are gradually entering clinical use. DWI and PWI can detect brain ischemia in the early phase in its full extent thus ensuring a definite diagnosis, allowing for follow-up of the ischemic lesion size over time with good spatial and temporal resolution, demonstrating perfusion deficit and reperfusion and the existence and the extent of penumbra while only requiring a few minutes of imaging time. DWI and PWI do not just give us the correct diagnosis of ischemic stroke, but allow us to acquire in vivo lesion size before therapeutic regimen is started and monitor the therapeutic efficacy thereafter, thus overcoming the potential pretreatment bias. We used DWI and PWI to evaluate novel therapeutic approaches for ischemic stroke in numerous experimental studies and lately in humans. With DWI and PWI, we are able to determine the in vivo efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of new therapeutic regiments (both neuroprotective and thrombolytic agents, or combination therapies) in a rapid, safe, and reliable way and in a relatively small number of well-selected, well-defined, and homogeneous patients. This approach may, therefore, significantly accelerate the development of new remedies for stroke patients.
Keywords: cerebral infarction, ischemic stroke, magnetic resonance imaging, drug therapy, diffusion, perfusion, neuroprotection, thrombolysis, clinical trials
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