A new study has suggested that a new drug could reduce the risk of stroke in thousands of patients undergoing brain operations.
If its benefits are proven in further studies, the treatment could have a major impact on patients undergoing a host of procedures.
Small strokes are a common complication arising from operations on the brain, but injecting the drug after surgery was found to reduce the number of affected sites by 40 percent.
According to experts, while strokes often cause no harm to the lesions, they can be extremely serious and protecting the brain against them could prevent patients suffering severe brain damage.
Researchers tested the safety of the drug, known as NA-1, on a group of 185 patients undergoing operations to remove a brain aneurysm - a bulge in an artery which can burst and cause bleeding.
Since the procedure limits the blood flow to the patient's brain, it often causes small strokes, resulting in damaged areas of brain tissue known as lesions.
Patients administered the drug, which disrupts a protein linked to stroke damage, after surgery and measured the damage to patient's brains using MRI scans.
The results showed that those patients who were given the drug rather than a placebo had an average of seven lesions, or damaged sites, compared with 12 in those given a placebo.
There was no significant difference in the overall size of the damaged area, but this may have been because there were too few patients to notice a clear difference.
Prof Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the treatment could have a major impact on patients undergoing a host of procedures, if its benefits are proven in further studies.
"The important thing is that this is just one procedure in which we know some brain damage is caused, so it is a good one in which to test the drug," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.
"If it turns out that this protects the brain, we could use it on umpteen procedures on the brain, so it might have a much broader impact than just these patients," he said.
Prof Michael Hill of the University of Calgary, who led the study, said safe drugs to protect the brain during operations that restrict blood flow to the brain was a "major unmet need in stroke treatment."
"Our research, which builds on existing animal studies, suggests that intravenous infusion of NA-1 reduces tissue damage in patients who suffer a small stroke after an operation to repair a brain aneurysm, and further research is now needed to investigate the efficacy of neuroprotection in larger clinical trials," Hill said.
The study has been published in the journal Lancet.