Dutch and German physicians say a new experimental drug may dramatically reduce brain damage in patients who have suffered a stroke.

Doctors from Maastricht University in the Netherlands and Wurzburg University in Germany say the drug has been very effective in preventing serious brain damage in mice, even when given hours after a stroke, and this gives them hope it can be effective in humans as well.  If so, it would be a major new weapon against strokes, which kill nearly 6 million people worldwide every year.

The new drug, developed by the German biotechnology firm Vaspharm, inhibits a specific enzyme that the scientists say is responsible for brain damage in stroke victims.

Most strokes are caused by blood clots or other blockages that cut the flow of blood to the brain.  Only one drug, tPA, presently exists to treat ischemic strokes (caused by blood clots); it can dissolve blood clots, but is only effective if administered within three hours of a stroke.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.