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India-U.S. Collaboration Studies Stroke, Heart Disease

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 31 October 2013
Group of Indian women marching with bundle of blue and white balloons (AP Images)

Paramedics and health workers joined a rally to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease on World Heart Day in September 2013.

Washington — A cadre of international health professionals is undertaking the first large-scale study of strokes in India to identify lifestyle and environmental factors contributing to one of the leading causes of death in the country.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a U.S. government health research agency, is a principal sponsor of the work, centered at the St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore. St. John’s is the home of a South Asian Center of Excellence, backed by a coalition of government, academic and private health organizations.

NHLBI, one of the National Institutes of Health, and the UnitedHealth Group, a U.S.-based health care corporation, are two of the principal funders of the Bangalore center, one in an 11-center worldwide network. These centers strive to better prevent and control cardiovascular and lung diseases and foster stronger research and training capabilities to lessen the burden of these diseases.

With a population of 1.2 billion and a high occurrence of cardiovascular disease, India provides an opportunity to make advances in combating a common condition that affects people across the world. The NHLBI director of the Centers of Excellence program, Dr. Cristina Rabadán-Diehl, says the India study could yield a better understanding of factors associated with stroke and cardiovascular diseases and better techniques for rehabilitating patients.

“The knowledge that is being acquired through this research will be disseminated across the research community, so that it can be used to prevent and control heart and lung disease in populations around the world,” said Rabadán-Diehl.

The Bangalore Center for Excellence also provides opportunities for U.S. and Indian researchers to work side by side in data collection and analysis. “That is how we build bridges in the research community,” Rabadán-Diehl said, bridges that will contribute to the long-term sustainability of international collaboration in health care and research.

The World Health Organization identifies cardiovascular diseases as the leading cause of death across the globe, causing about 30 percent of all deaths.

In an interview, the NHLBI expert said valuable data about environment and lifestyle factors in cardiovascular diseases will be collected among India’s diverse population. Given the frequency and severity of disability associated with stroke, the researchers also anticipate that the study may yield new insights on post-stroke care that current patients are receiving.

Surveying the care that stroke patients are getting in rural areas, where high-level, skilled care is likely unavailable, will also be important, Rabadán-Diehl said.

“How can we help develop rehabilitation interventions that improve outcomes of individuals affected by a stroke, and how can we take the most cost-effective therapeutic interventions and adapt them for use in other countries attempting to provide care to patients in remote or rural areas?” Rabadán-Diehl said.

She said the center’s research will attempt to develop effective ways to support households providing care and rehabilitation. Identifying measures that can be taken to prevent recurring attacks in the home-based recovery phase is another important focus of the work.

Besides family members and patients, the study will also involve community health workers in post-stroke care to further increase the chance of preventing cardiovascular diseases. Over the long term, the intent will be to develop a higher level of community education and health care skills in rural communities.

The Population Health Research Institute, a joint institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation in Canada, is also a principal partner in the Bangalore center.