NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NINDS’s Simpkins Wins Stroke Award

Dr. Alexis Simpkins
Dr. Alexis Simpkins

Dr. Alexis Simpkins, a clinical vascular neurology fellow in the Stroke Branch of the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, recently won the first prize Progress and Innovation Award from the journal Stroke. The award honors Simpkins as the first author of the manuscript titled “Identification of Reversible Disruption of the Human Blood–Brain Barrier Following Acute Ischemia.” She completed this project with Dr. Richard Leigh, an assistant clinical investigator in the NINDS neurovascular brain imaging unit.

“In the study, we used a novel imaging method on a unique dataset to ask a question that previously could not have been addressed in humans—is blood-brain barrier disruption reversible in humans?” explained Simpkins. “With this knowledge, we may be able to find a way to manipulate the blood-brain barrier and facilitate new approaches to acute stroke treatment.” The blood-brain barrier is a network of tightly connected cells that prevents substances from the blood from passing freely into the brain.

According to the Stroke web site, the award is “a visible and effective way of encouraging new paths, new methods and new ways of thinking” and is made possible by funding from the American Heart Association, American Stroke Association and Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Simpkins received the award at the International Stroke Conference in Houston earlier this year.

Simpkins earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Augusta State University, Georgia, in 2001, and her M.D.-Ph.D. degree in medicine and vascular biology at the Medical College of Georgia in 2010. After completing her neurology residency training at Johns Hopkins University in 2014, she joined the NINDS Stroke Branch as a vascular neurology fellow and later served as chief vascular neurology fellow from 2015 to 2016.  

Simpkins is also currently working with Dr. John Hallenbeck, chief of the Stroke Branch, and Dr. Larry Latour, a staff scientist in the stroke diagnostics and therapeutics section, on blood transcriptome and magnetic resonance imaging biomarkers of acute ischemic stroke. 

Biomarkers are objective ways to measure a disease process. A transcriptome is a collection of gene readouts present in a cell. 

Using advanced transcriptome analysis with next-generation RNA sequencing of mRNA and microRNA in patients who have had MRIs prior to and after acute ischemic stroke, the research team hopes to find biomarkers that can identify new therapeutic targets and broaden treatment options for patients.—Shannon E. Garnett

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