HUNTER researchers are one step closer to finding a way to treat post-stroke fatigue thanks to more than $1 million in federal government funding.
University of Newcastle Conjoint Professor Christopher Levi will lead a large, randomised trial in Australia and the UK to look at the effects of a common drug used to treat sleep disorders in the long-term recovery of stroke survivors.
"About 20 per cent of stroke survivors will experience a really debilitating fatigue - where they can't go back to work, or socialise, and it really effects their quality of life," Professor Levi said.
"This is something that, as a doctor, I have been annoyed about for a very long time. It has been a problem that I couldn't fix for people, and that is what has driven my interest in this.
"It is a common problem, it is quite disabling for people, and there may be a quick fix with medication if this trial proves to be positive."
Up to 70 per cent of stroke survivors experience fatigue that is not improved by any amount of rest.
The trial, Reducing debilitating fatigue after stroke to improve Quality of Life, was among 10 national neurological projects to receive a total of $21.8 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
Professor Levi said in an earlier stage of the trial, almost half of the patients had "substantial benefit" from a drug already used to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
"The long-term impacts of stroke remain under-researched, however our previous work has shown an encouraging correlation between a daily dose of Modafinil and the significant reduction in fatigue," Professor Levi said. "People we tested it on in the phase two trial reported feeling more alert and energetic and they were able to get back to work, and get back to social functioning.
"It was quite an interesting result - but not definitive, that's why we need to do the next trial.
"I reckon if we get a similar benefit in this phase three trial, it may be able to help something in the order of 10,000-plus stroke patients a year in Australia that, at the moment, have debilitating fatigue and don't have any treatment."
Professor Levi said stroke was the leading cause of adult disability in the developed world.
"However, there are no pharmaceutical therapies available beyond the acute period to improve the outcome or quality of life for survivors," he said. "This drug is not yet proven to work in stroke fatigue, but that is the aim of this trial."
University of Newcastle Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Janet Nelson, said the research was crucial to ensure the improved quality of life of stroke survivors.