Trial establishes Melbourne as stroke rehabilitation leader

June 2016

Results from a stroke trial conducted by Melbourne researchers suggest a new guide on treating patients following acute stroke.

Stroke is not only one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability, it is also a huge cost to the country. The estimated cost of stroke in Australia is 5 billion dollars per year.

A third of that bill goes toward rehabilitating people who have had a stroke. Despite the fact we spend a copious amount on this component of stroke management, we have a limited knowledge base about when to start rehabilitation and how much it should be administrated.

Enter AVERT (which stands for A Very Early Rehabilitation Trial), which was an eight-year study looking at just that. The team at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, headed by Principle Investigator, Professor Julie Bernhardt, set out to provide clinicians with a practical guide on the timing, frequency and the intensity following acute stroke. 

Prior to AVERT, trials conducted in stroke rehabilitation have been very small and have rarely involved an international community. These trials were often unable to provide the evidence necessary to help clinicians.

AVERT was the largest trial of its type ever conducted, with over 2000 patients and involving a number of countries across Asia and Europe. The results of the trial suggested that shorter, more frequent mobilisation following acute stroke improved patient outcomes.

The trial demonstrated that advice given to clinicians regarding early intervention was inadequate and potential harmful. But the importance of the trial goes well beyond how stroke rehabilitation is practiced. It will change how trials of this kind are done in the future. Due to the success of the study, any future research will likely use the AVERT trial as a benchmark of quality and sample size.

Professor Stephen Davis AM, President of the World Stroke Organisation and Club Melbourne Ambassador, was an investigator in the AVERT trial. Professor Davis commented, “this is probably the most important rehabilitation trial in stroke ever conducted and will have a huge international impact. It provides important information about the timing and intensity of post stroke rehabilitation and will have a major influence on treatment guidelines. Furthermore, analysis by the AVERT group will undoubtedly shed new light on brain recovery after stroke.

Additionally, the trial puts Melbourne on the map of stroke research. According to another AVERT investigator and Club Melbourne Ambassador Professor Geoffrey Donnan AO, Director of The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, “the trial has really put Julie and The Florey on the map as being global leaders in the field. Because of the trials, Julie has established a profile that will attract researchers and students to Melbourne. I can also see companies being interested in working with her to develop and enhance the rehabilitation process. This will help create jobs and drive Melbourne commercially.”

AVERT is a success on many fronts – it will help improved outcomes of patients, increase our understanding of brain recovery after stroke and position Melbourne as a scientific leader in stroke research.

Congratulations are due to everyone involved with the trial.
The trial's Principle Investigator, Professor Julie Bernhardt will be welcomed into the Club Melbourne Ambassador Program on 15 August 2016 at the program's 11th Anniversary Dinner.