W.Va. Nurse Develops New Blood Test to Identify What Kind of Stroke You’re Having

Jan 13, 2015

Taura Barr has developed not one, but two new diagnostic tools to help determine what kind of stroke a patient is having, and when the stroke symptoms began--both critical pieces of information when minutes count.

“So what’s your family health story?” Nurse/PhD Taura Barr asked. “It could save your life.”
Credit Chuck Kleine / WVPublic

Barr is a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Restoration in the WVU School of Nursing. She’s in charge of her own lab where she studies important matters of the heart and brain.

About Barr:

  • She became a nurse because she wanted to combine her love and curiosity about the human body and fill a need to connect and help individuals.
  • She fell in love with research and got her PhD.
  • She is the Chief Scientific Officer of a startup life sciences company,CereDx, working to commercialize genomic biomarkers for the diagnosis of ischemic stroke.
  • And, ...she’s married with four children.

All this in the first three decades of her life.

Stroke Research

Barr said along her life’s trip through this world, she grew frustrated with the limitations of patient care for individuals who present stroke symptoms. She took it to heart when a mentor told her she ought to try to change clinical patient care, if she thought she could. Since then, Barr has developed a way to test patients presenting with stroke symptoms to more definitively determine the kind of attack they are having, and when symptoms began with blood tests.

That’s a big deal.

CDC reports that every year about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack. Without quick response, chances of survival and quality of life begin to drop, fast. Passionate researchers like Barr are overcoming challenges to continue to push medical boundaries.

From the boundaries...

Barr says sometimes she feels stuck in the fringes of acceptance. As a nurse, she doesn't quite fit in with other researching PhDs, and as a scientist, she’s not quite in the world of many nurses.  But she says her out-of-bounds existence makes her perspective valuable; she approaches research in a way that challenges norms. Barr attributes a lot of her success so far to her dedicated determination to improve clinical patient care. “I’ll die trying,” Barr said with a glint in her eye.

Actually, Barr almost did die.

Personal Health Histories

Barr took a long plane trip when she was about 12 weeks pregnant. A genetic predisposition combined with the low cabin pressure, and Barr developed a blood clot that traveled to her lung. It almost killed her. But she’s back on her feet and more than ever, she is a champion of recording personal health histories.

“Even today,” Barr explains, “more than any genetic test we’ve developed, a detailed family health history may be the most effective tool we have to save lives.”