A surgical procedure called thrombectomy is a safe and feasible treatment option for a rare type of stroke, according to a study published in Radiology, a journal of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Thrombectomy is commonly performed to remove blood clots from brain arteries. It is often done to treat strokes arising from blood clots in the larger arteries that supply blood to the brain. When done promptly, thrombectomy can sometimes be more successful than clot-busting drugs in mitigating long-term damage to the brain. 

Recent advances in technology have made it possible to perform thrombectomy in some of the narrower vessels in the head—vessels like the anterior cerebral arteries that arise from the internal carotid artery. However, evidence supporting a potential benefit of thrombectomy for these vessels remains unknown. 

As part of the treatment for primary medium vessel occlusion stroke, or TOPMOST trial, researchers in Germany compared thrombectomy with medical treatment in 154 patients. The patients all had primary isolated anterior cerebral artery medium vessel occlusions, or obstructions. The patients underwent thrombectomy or best medical treatment, which typically involves medications to dissolve the clot and reduce blood pressure. In some cases, patients may receive intravenous thrombolysis, the introduction of clot-busting drugs to the bloodstream or directly to the site of clot.

The researchers assessed early outcome, or outcome within the first 24 hours after treatment, and longer-term functional outcome. They also looked at safety with a focus on bleeding in the brain and death.

The results showed that thrombectomy was a safe and technically feasible option. Within the first 24 hours after treatment, thrombectomy patients had similar outcomes to those who received best medical treatment alone with or without intravenous thrombolysis. Longer-term, both groups had similar clinical and functional outcomes. Mortality rates were similar in both groups. 

“Based on our study, both treatment options appear to be effective and safe,” says study lead author Lukas Meyer, MD, from the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Neuroradiology at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany. “The overall results of the study are consistent with a growing body of literature suggesting that thrombectomy may have a role in the treatment of this type of stroke. Eligible patients should therefore be randomized to ongoing prospective trials whenever possible.”

Meyer emphasizes that the type of blockages his team studied are rare, and all the centers involved in this study were tertiary stroke centers with a high level of expertise in these kinds of interventions. Selection of patients for thrombectomy remains a key issue, Meyer says, especially when patients are not eligible for randomization in a designated trial.