News at Medicine - September 2011 - Pushing the boundaries of stroke recovery

Pushing the boundaries of stroke recovery
September 27, 2011
The Heart and Stroke Foundation announced $10 million in funding Sept. 27 to its partner organization, the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery (CSR), to fund research in the area of stroke recovery. Memorial University is a new partner in the CSR.   

“Research into stroke recovery is more important than ever because we now know that recovery continues indefinitely rather than stopping a few weeks after the event,” said Dr. Dale Corbett, CEO and scientific director of the CSR. “This finding has major implications for rehabilitation and for research into recovery following stroke. It opens the door to new modes of rehabilitation and treatment. For survivors, it means it is never too late to regain functions.”

David Sculthorpe, CEO, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, said the Centre for Stroke Recovery is redefining research, stroke care, and stroke recovery across the country. “This contribution will facilitate new discoveries and help stroke survivors recover faster than ever before. We are extremely grateful for the contributions from the centre’s current partners which include Baycrest, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and its new partner, Memorial University of Newfoundland.”

CSR partners are committed to transforming outcomes by dramatically reducing the incidence of stroke and improving recovery and quality of life for stroke survivors and caregivers. Funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the

CSR’s other partners will support vital research and accelerate its pace.

The foundation’s investment will continue to fuel the CSR' research into new areas of stroke recovery. Created in 2002, the CSR has initiated multiple research initiatives and partnerships aimed at accelerating and enhancing recovery from stroke. 

Key areas of research in the CSR include exercise, stroke recovery and brain health. CSR teams, including one led by Drs. Laura Middleton and Brad MacIntosh at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, are working to understand the implications of exercise for recovery. These innovative studies have the potential to change lives in a very substantive way according to Dr. Corbett.

Research shows that something as simple as regular exercise can actually speed up the process of brain repair. “We all know physical activity is good,” said Dr. Corbett. “Now, we are amassing evidence that exercise may also accelerate stroke recovery. Our teams are trying to learn what intensity and duration of exercise will bring the best results. Their findings will have many applications, and may lead to new guidelines and greater emphasis on exercise therapy after stroke. Also, our research can be translated immediately into clinical practice because new exercise regimens do not require a long approval process.”

Other areas of research in the CSR include small vessel disease, covert stroke and cognitive function. Dr. Black and her team at Sunnybrook as well as colleagues at Baycrest are among the many CSR researchers studying silent or covert strokes – tiny strokes that do not immediately produce obvious symptoms. 

While covert stroke has received increased attention over the last few years, the magnitude of the problem is just now being realized. Canadians are five to six times more likely to experience covert strokes than massive overt strokes – and the long-term effects often include significant loss of cognitive function and eventually dementia.

The cumulative effect can be devastating, according to Dr. Corbett. “Major strokes are the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “Covert stroke is the huge hidden part of the iceberg – and the part we need to better diagnose and understand.

“Part of the challenge, and an important first step, is acquiring improved data.  Currently in Canada we do not capture this sufficiently. My hope is to see improved data capture and better cognitive tools to ensure early detection. Much of our research in this area is aimed at improved data capture, development of better tools for early detection and new cognitive rehab therapies.”

Another area of research is regenerative approaches to stroke recovery involving neurogenesis and cell transplants. CSR teams, including one led by Dr. Corbett, working at University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, are looking for ways to promote the replacement of brain cells – a process known as neurogenesis.The goal is to help the brain heal itself using its own processes after stroke. “This area of research is still in its infancy, but it may lay the groundwork for future therapies which – down the road – will significantly accelerate stroke recovery,” said Dr. Corbett.

To learn more about research into stroke recovery, visit
To learn more about stroke and stroke prevention, visit