Researchers at Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health are working on a test that could detect a stroke in just 10 minutes, and it requires a tiny drop of blood barely big enough to moisten the fingertip.
Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, and half of Americans have at least one risk factor. Those factors include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
A stroke occurs when either a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain (ischemic stroke) or a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). The brain is starved of oxygen and brain cells begin to die, often resulting in permanent disability or death.
Husham Mishu, MD, chief of neurology and medical director of stroke services at the Atlanta Medical Center, says the ideal window for treating a stroke is 3 to 4.5 hours. The new test could be performed in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, allowing patients to receive more immediate treatment.
The test uses plates coated with enzymes that can detect a substance called neuron-specific enolase (NSE) that increases in the blood following a stroke. When those enzymes bind with to the chemicals, they trigger a chain reaction that leads to the emission of light. Researchers can measure the amount of NSE in the blood based on how much light is emitted. 
“Three-quarters of stroke patients suffer from ischemic stroke – a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain. In those cases, time is of the essence, because there is a good drug available, but for a successful outcome it has to be given within three or four hours after the onset of symptoms,” says the study’s lead author Roy Cohen, a research scientist at the Baker Institute.
Cohen says speeding up the diagnostic process could save many people permanent damage caused by ischemic stroke.
“By the time someone identifies the symptoms, gets to the hospital and sits in the emergency room, you don’t have much time to obtain the full benefit of this drug.”
Currently, the test can detect NSE caused by a stroke and other illness, but Cohen and his colleagues hope to soon be able to adapt the test to detect several key chemicals that will allow them to zoom in on strokes and differentiate between ischemic and hemorrhagic types.
They also hope the test can someday be used to detect concussions, heart disease, some dementias, and cancers.
“This system could be tailored to detect multiple biomarkers,” says co-author Alex Travis. “That’s the strength of the technique. You could assemble a microfluidic card based on this technology that could detect 10 biomarkers in different wells, and the readout would be the same for each one: light.”
But the test can only help stroke patients get help sooner if they know the symptoms of stroke to begin with. All too often, people ignore symptoms or assume they’re related to something other than stroke. And knowing how to prevent a stroke always helps, too.
The signs and symptoms of stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, an arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
 Daily Mail