Researchers in Focus: Elena Palà and Olga Sánchez-Maroto Carrizo from VHIR (Spain)

It is often we hear about the research going on in the lab but rarely do we shine a spotlight on the researchers behind the work. Here in this series called ‘PRESTIGE-AF researchers in focus’ we will learn more about who is behind the groundbreaking research into ICH stroke survivors’ who have atrial fibrillation and their ongoing treatment.

In this iteration, we meet Elena Palà, PhD student and Olga Sánchez-Maroto Carrizo, project manager who are two researchers from PRESTIGE-AF partner institute, Vall d’Hebrón Institute of Research (VHIR) Neurovascular Research Laboratory.

Elena Palà – PhD student

photo of Elena Pala in a lab coat
  • If you were to explain to a person without any medical background, what is your research about?

Our research is focused on discovering biomarkers in the stroke field. Biomarkers are molecules that can be measured in the blood of patients and may help the physicians in the diagnostic and prognosis of a disease. For example, in the PRESTIGE-AF, we look for biomarkers that give us information about the risk of a patient to have a haemorrhage or an ischaemic stroke in the future.

  • What drew you to this field?

I became a scientist as I like to think that what I am doing will help patients and I think that without science, medicine would not advance. I studied genetics and as I was more interested in translational research than basic research and I ended up doing my PhD on stroke biomarkers.

  • What is your role in PRESTIGE-AF?

In the Neurovascular Research Laboratory, we are responsible for the central biobank of the study. At the moment, and before the clinical trial ends, a lot of work consists of preparing material to be sent to all the sites in Europe participating in the study. Also, we have been in charge of creating a harmonized protocol in order that all the sites process the blood in the same way, and we are in constant contact with the sites to solve doubts. Once the clinical trial ends we will receive the blood from all the included participants and we will perform several experiments analysing biomarkers in order to find the most interesting candidates.

  • Has there been a turning point or defining moment in your career so far?

I imagine that one important moment will be the day I present my PhD.

  • Briefly, what excites you about your work?

What I like most about working in science is learning new things every day. Also, I like being part of interesting projects like the PRESTIGE-AF, in which I found the opportunity to work with an international multidisciplinary team of experts.

  • Tell me what you like to do when you aren’t working on research.

In my free time I like travelling. Also, I like reading, watching series and doing some sport.

  • What are your professional goals in the next five, and ten years?

I would like to continue working in a position linked to research and science, learning every day and feeling useful in my job.

Olga Sánchez-Maroto Carrizo – Project Manager

  • If you were to explain to a person without any medical background, what is your research about?

My role is to help investigators and Sponsors to conduct clinical investigations, helping them in the design, logistics and management of trials.

  • What drew you to this field?

I have a degree in Biology, but I am not a scientist as people usually think. I am part of the administrative team that each scientist needs for conducting investigations. Investigators focus on their experiments which tend to have them forgetting all the paperwork and logistics that all investigations have.

What is your role in PRESTIGE-AF?

My role is to oversee the clinical trial in Spain, helping the Sponsor and Investigators in the management of the investigation.

  • What excites you about your work?

To try to improve the health and quality of life of patients.

  • Tell me what you like to do when you aren’t working on research.

In my free time, you can find me cooking, reading or practising yoga.

  • What are your professional goals in the next five, and ten years?

I hope, let’s cross the fingers, to stay as today, helping investigators to achieve their objectives for improving the health and quality of life of people.

PRESTIGE-AF Study resumes

Stethoscope and Laptop Computer. Laptop computers and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone

After almost 3 months of suspension due to COVID-19, the PRESTIGE-AF Study has resumed recruitment of participants

After almost 3 months of suspension, recruitment of participants into the PRESTIGE-AF Study is resuming. In Germany and Spain there are seven and three sites open respectively, with many new sites due to open over the next few weeks. Italy, Austria and France have been given permission to start recruitment into the study for the first time and sites will begin to open from 1st July.   Participant recruitment is still paused in the UK but is expected to resume in the next two months.

It goes without saying that PRESTIGE-AF investigators are proceeding with utmost caution and are regularly reassessing and evaluating for the health and safety of their patients. That being said, this is great news for the consortium, the research and the PRESTIGE-AF project as a whole. Now, work can resume to fulfil the aims of the project; a randomised controlled trial to gather evidence around recommended anticoagulation medication for stroke prevention in patients with atrial fibrillation. With stroke being one of the largest public health challenges around the world albeit a growing challenge with increased ageing population estimates, the PRESTIGE-AF work is crucial to help stroke prevention and bettering the treatment and care for brain stroke survivors with atrial fibrillation.

The consortium hope to see a flurry of participant recruitment activity and it has kicked-off to a good start. In Essen, Germany, the first participant was recruited soon after the Study resumed.

It feels as if the world has been in a state of dormancy and COVID-19 has and will continue to impact our lives, professionally and personally. However, with the Study resuming we are slowly coming out of a surreal reality and the team feel uplifted and charged to continue their work on PRESTIGE-AF.

Article photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

COVID update

We wanted to provide a quick update on how PRESTIGE-AF is progressing at the moment in regard to COVID-19. To ensure the safety and well-being of all participants, the clinical steering committee and the sponsor of the prestige-AF trial have decided to temporarily suspend the recruitment of further participants. For those participants already enrolled in the trials, mitigating measures have been put in place and their safety and health is assured.

This is not a unique circumstance, many research programmes across Europe are also in similar situations and are impacted by the containment measures.

We are closely monitoring the situation and will provide another update when there are any changes.

For further information, the European Commission has placed up-to-date information on their website regarding COVID-19 response and action.

Yours sincerely,
Prof Roland Veltkamp
Imperial College London
PRESTIGE-AF coordinator and on behalf of the PRESTIGE-AF consortium

Should patients with a brain bleed be given anticoagulant medication?

First published on SAFE’s website.

SAFE is a non-profit-making organisation that represents a range of stroke patient groups from across Europe. Their goal is to drive stroke prevention up the European political agenda and prevent the incidence of stroke through education.

Stroke is one of the largest public health challenges around the world, and occur when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, such as through a clot or a brain bleed. It is the most common cause of adult-acquired disability, the second leading cause of death globally and the second most frequent cause of dementia. In addition, its impact is expected to further increase in the coming decades due to the ageing population.

We spoke with Dr Eleni Korompoki, MD, PhD, FESO, about a €6.9m worth EU funded research project, aimed at patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), a common heart condition which causes irregular and abnormally fast heartbeat, who have previously had a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain (termed intracerebral hemorrhage or ICH). The Prevention of Stroke in intracerebral hemorrhage survivor with Atrial Fibrillation (PRESTIGE-AF) brings together scientists and clinicians across Europe with the goal of reducing the risk of further stroke in this group of patients. Dr Korompoki is a Clinical Research Fellow in Stroke Medicine at Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London.

Dr Eleni Korompoki, MD, PhD, FESO, PRESTIGE AF researcher
Dr Eleni Korompoki, MD, PhD, FESO, PRESTIGE AF researcher

SAFE: If you were to explain the project’s aim to a person without any medical background, what would you say?
EK: We are conducting a research study to show whether or not patients who have had a brain hemorrhage should be given anticoagulant medication to prevent blood clots that can be caused by a heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Currently we do not know the best way to prevent strokes in these patients.

SAFE: What types of partner do you need to carry out a project like this?
EK: This project is covering many specialties, so we need to have partners with experts in stroke, cardiology, genetics, biomarkers, neuroimaging and predictive modelling to name just a few!

SAFE: Can you briefly describe your role in the project?
EK: I am part of the central clinical trial team who assist all of the (70!) hospitals who recruit to our clinical trial. I am available to provide medical support, answer questions about patient eligibility and review the safety reports (called adverse events) as we closely monitor all health complaints that patients have whilst they are in the study. Towards the end of the project I will be involved with data analysis and writing up the results of the trial.

SAFE: What (if any) are the difficulties with carrying out the work?
EK: Stroke is the leading cause of disability in Europe and strokes caused by bleeding tend to be more disabling. Therefore it can be a challenge to identify patients who are willing and able to take part in a study like this.

SAFE: What personally attracted you to be in this project?
EK: I have been involved in stroke research for more than 10 years, focusing on stroke prevention and heart-brain connection. As a physician and researcher, I strongly believe that prevention is the key element for well- being. PRESTIGE-AF is a prevention trial targeting an individualised approach and better quality of life after stroke. The trial will also address important aspects such as gender differences, and patients’ attitudes and preferences.

As part of PRESTIGE-AF consortium I have plenty opportunity to interact with internationally recognised experts of ten leading European academic institutions, to work together with a multidisciplinary team from different European countries gaining a lot of experience and improving my scientific skills.

SAFE: When this project ends, what do you expect to change, i.e. how it will reflect on stroke treatment?
EK: We expect to be able to provide evidence based treatment to patients who have had a brain hemorrhage and have atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia. In addition we hope that we will be able to start using a more person centered approach with these patients using information learnt from looking at brain scans, blood tests, gender differences and psychological aspects.

PRESTIGE-AF has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 754517.

PRESTIGE-AF second annual meeting held in Graz, Austria on 6th December

Another year, another successful annual meeting. Hosted by PRESTIGE-AF partners, Medizinische Universitat Graz (MUG), the PRESTIGE-AF consortium convened in the idyllic and picturesque town of Graz in Austria on the 6th December for one full day of intense presentations, parallel session discussions and Scientific Advisory Board feedback.

The day started early at 8am, inviting the medical students of MUG to a seminar on the PRESTIGE-AF project. Dr Thomas Gattringer who is Additive Specialist Neurological Intensive Care at MUG, focussed his talk on the diagnosis and treatment of haemorrhagic stroke. With final remarks discussing the identified gaps in treatment guidelines, Dr Gattringer provided a smooth segue for Prof Roland Veltkamp to speak about the PRESTIGE-AF study. Coordinator of PRESTIGE-AF and Chair of Stroke Medicine at Imperial College London (UK), Prof Veltkamp explained to the students what PRESTIGE-AF, as an EU-funded, international collaborative research study, hopes to achieve in closing these gaps in stroke treatment guidelines and the expected research and patient impacts.

people in a lecture theatre listening to Prof Roland Velktamp present
Prof. Roland Veltkamp explaining to medical students of MUG the importance of the PRESTIGE-AF Study. The PRESTIGE-AF Study aims to bolster treatment guidelines for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who have suffered an intracerebral haemorrhage (ICH)

After these talks, the PRESTIGE-AF consortium gathered and work group leaders provided updates on their research progress from the past year. A well-deserved lunch brought in the afternoon parallel sessions. With one group discussing predictive modelling and the other clinical trial coordination, partners used the time to ask each other questions and clarify the particulars around the PRESTIGE-AF clinical trials including protocols, responsibilities and technical requirements.

people in a lecture theatre listening to Prof Roland Velktamp present
Dr Kathrin Foerster presenting the work package (WP) 13 update on behalf of PRESTIGE-AF partners, Heidelberg University Hospital (Germany).

The penultimate agenda item was the Scientific Advisory Board feedback presented to the Consortium. The Board commended the Consortium for all their efforts and progress over the year and this left good stead for Prof. Veltkamp to give his final remarks and closed the meeting on positive notes as we lead into the holiday season.

Overall, the meeting wonderfully prepared, organised and delivered by MUG was a huge success and plans are already underway for deciding which partner will host the next annual meeting.

We are underway! First participant recruited

Congratulations to the team at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust (UK) who randomised the first participant into the PRESTIGE-AF Study. Our other sites across Europe are underway to do the same and we look forward to continuing the marvellous work in the PRESTIGE-AF Study.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust team of four people standing looking at the camera
The team at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust who randomised the first participant. From left: Vaishali Dave, Peter Wilding, Ana Gil, Sheila Mashate (front-right). Congratulations to the team!

For further information about the clinical trials across Europe:
UK
Omid Halse
omid.halse@nhs.net
Austria
Franz Fazekas (contact Chris Enzinger)
chris.enzinger@medunigraz.at
France
Igor Sibon
igor.sibon@u-bordeaux.fr
Italy
Valeria Caso
valeria.caso@ospedale.perugia.it
Germany
Peter Ringleb
peter.ringleb@med.uni-heidelberg.de
Spain
Joan Montaner
joan.montaner@vhir.org