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Donation to support stroke research

June 24th, 2022

A $6million donation to La Trobe University from Brendan McAssey is the latest contribution to the university’s on-going research into a new stroke treatment.

Image credit: La Trobe University

The phase-two human trial will use human amniotic cells, which are usually discarded after birth, as a potential treatment for those who have had a stroke.

The injected cells travel to the brain where they locate injured sites, reduce inflammation and help recovery. The consequence of such treatment is that it can potentially reduce stroke-related brain injury and help recovery.

Mr McAssey’s Beluga Foundation initially gave $1 million in 2018 to support clinical trials of the treatment being undertaken by La Trobe’s Professor Chris Sobey. Eight patients were injected with the cells and the results were impressive.

“It sounded like nanotechnology,’’ Mr McAssey said of the innovation. “These cells find where they need to go, do their job and then get absorbed into the body,’’ he said in a radio interview.

The Beluga Foundation was established in honour of Mr McAssey’s sister Michelle - who has spina bifida – and is focussed on disability. But there is a strong connection between strokes and disability, with strokes being a leading cause of disability in Australia.

The McAssey children’s father Danny suffered a series of strokes over a six-year-period that left him increasingly disabled before he died at the age of 56.

There was also another reason beyond the personal connection that prompted Mr McAssey to fund Professor Sobey’s research.

“When I was talking to Chris, one of the interesting things was, while he’d applied to government and pharmaceutical companies for a research grant, none of them were particularly interested,’’ Mr McAssey said several years ago.

“It’s a wholly natural product, not pharmaceutically generated and it’s free. So, there’s really no profit outcome from this research, and pharmaceutical companies have no benefit in supporting it.’’

The Foundation was established after Mr McAssey sold his childcare company, Only About Children, to US private equity firm Bain Capital in 2016. Bain sold the business to US operator Bright Horizons in May.

The trial’s first stroke patient will be recruited later this year.  The work will be conducted at about 10 sites around the country.

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