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    In the “Buckle” of the Stroke Belt

    An interview with renowned stroke researcher Roger Simon, M.D., the new head of translational stroke research at the Neuroscience Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine.

    In the “Buckle” of the Stroke Belt

    Renowned stroke researcher Roger P. Simon, M.D. recently joined MSM as director of Translational Programs in Stroke at the Neuroscience Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine. He brings tremendous experience and credentials in bench-to-bedside stroke research to the Neuroscience Institute, and will help attract more top talent to our research programs.

    Simon’s research interests stem from an extensive background as a clinician and educator. He was an undergraduate and graduate student in Entomology at Penn State, received his M.D. from Cornell University, completed his clinical training at the New York Hospital (Internal Medicine) and University of California San Francisco (Neurology), and was a post-doctoral fellow at The Maudsley Hospital in London.

    We sat down with Dr. Simon to welcome him and learn more about what drives his passion for stroke. Here’s what he told us.

    Q. How did your interest begin in stroke research?
    A. Very early in my training I realized that doctors could describe stroke patients’ deficits in great detail but could do very little to alter the outcome. During my year in London, we were the first to show that brain injury from impaired brain blood flow could be reduced by a class of drugs that blocked the increased calcium uptake in the brain that occurs during a stroke. If we could protect the brains of rats, it seemed reasonable that we could protect the human brain as well.

    Q. Georgia is one of the states in the “Stroke Belt.” What contributes to this designation?
    A. The “belt” includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Tennessee. The Carolinas and Georgia are where stroke incidence is highest. This region is sometimes referred to as the “buckle” of the stroke belt. Death from stroke in this region is increased by 10 percent or more over the national average.

    Q. What populations are at greatest risk for stroke?
    A. In comparison to whites, Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans have an increased risk of stroke and stroke-related death. In African Americans, this increased risk is seen in children as well as adults and the increased risk persists into adulthood even if the children relocate out of the stroke belt.

    Q. Why did you choose to advance your research at MSM’s Neuroscience Institute?
    A. The Neuroscience Institute has great strength in single cell neurophysiology, a technique that we use routinely in our stroke research. The NI staff includes strong scientists working in rodent and primate models of stroke. It was an easy fit for our program.

    Q. What recent discoveries or advances have helped us understand genetic risk factors associated with stroke?
    A. Our genes hold the codes for our biological response to disease including stroke. Using “gene chips” we now can get a measure of how all of our genes are responding to a stroke—which ones are turned on and which are turned off. We found that a pattern of gene suppression – that is, a pattern with certain genes turned off – characterizes brains with minimal injury after a stroke. This protective gene pattern is similar to what we see in the brain during hibernation.

    Q. What are some of your goals for MSM’s Translational Programs in Stroke?
    A. We want to extend our knowledge about how genes, and the proteins they code for, affect stroke outcome. We are doing this now by studying rodent brains. Ultimately, we plan on studying this in humans using new techniques to look at gene and protein changes in blood after a stroke. The long-term goal is to alter the brain’s response to stroke from one of injury to one of neuroprotection. We can already do it in mice.


    About Morehouse School of Medicine
    Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) recruits and trains minority and other students as physicians, biomedical scientists and public health professionals committed to improving the health and well-being of communities.  MSM is a member of the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the world – the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC).  For more information about Morehouse School of Medicine, visit us online at

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