Children’s Health Queensland, in partnership with the Stroke Foundation and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is leading a world-first study focused on reducing diagnostic timeframes for paediatric stroke to achieve better health outcomes and quality of life for children and young people.

Each year up to 600 Australian children are diagnosed with stroke, which happens when blood flow cannot reach an area of the brain, usually because of a blockage, or tears in the blood vessel. More than half of all children affected by stroke will sustain permanent brain damage that can lead to ongoing seizures, physical disability, speech or learning difficulties.

The new $4 million Australian Paediatric Acute Code Stroke study is trialling the implementation of consistent stroke protocol to increase the number of children receiving emergency stroke treatment, and transform the way childhood stroke is treated across the country. Ultimately, the research aims to improve survival rates and the quality of life for children and families impacted by stroke.

Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric neurologist Adriane Sinclair said time played a critical role in achieving the best possible outcome for children affected by stroke, but diagnosis was often delayed or overlooked in children because first responders are often not aware that stroke can happen in children. Symptoms in children can also mimic other conditions like migraine, brain tumour or metabolic disorders.

“Damage to the brain occurs rapidly from the onset of stroke. We hope to enable the swift identification and emergency treatment of stroke through the implementation of a national protocol which will help to improve the long-term outcomes and function levels for children affected,” Dr Sinclair said.

The study, funded by the federal Medical Research Future Fund, will build on pioneering pilot research at the Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH), the state’s only paediatric stroke centre, which demonstrated that a stand-alone facility can achieve consistent, early stroke recognition and intervention to reverse the lasting impact of stroke in children.

“Our previous research at the QCH, which involved the development of Australia’s first Code Stroke protocol for the assessment and management of stroke in children, has delivered encouraging evidence to support a best-practice model of care,” Dr Sinclair said.

“We have seen that rapid acute treatments, including brain protection and brain saving therapies, can help to prevent future strokes and make a difference to the life-long outcomes for a child’s physical function, speech, or their ability to perform at school.

“This new project will allow us to develop a pathway for the consistent management of stroke to ensure that children receive effective treatments as quickly as possible, regardless of where a child is treated in Australia.

“The ultimate goal is to improve survival rates and the quality of life for children and families impacted by stroke.”

Eight paediatric hospitals from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australian and Tasmania will trial the acute code stroke protocol as part of the study.