An Australian researcher is leading a world-first study into young people and stroke. An Australian researcher is leading a world-first study into young people and stroke.
News National Australian researchers lead hunt to explain why a stroke killed someone as young as Luke Perry Updated:

Australian researchers lead hunt to explain why a stroke killed someone as young as Luke Perry

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Actor Luke Perry’s recent death is a reminder that stroke can happen at any age. The Beverly Hills 90210 and Riverdale star died on March 4, aged 52, after a suffering a massive stroke a few days earlier.

His shock death prompted fans and high-profile names to pay tribute, as well as issue warnings about the early signs and risk factors of the potentially deadly condition.

Though stroke is typically associated with older people, it is on the rise in younger adults.

However, for about one in four younger stroke victims, there is no known cause, according to the Stroke Foundation.

But Australian researchers are now hoping to unlock one of the greatest mysteries related to the brain, with a world-first study on deadly strokes in our younger populations.

“There is still so much we don’t know about the mysteries of the brain,” Stroke Foundation Research Advisory Committee member Dr Caleb Ferguson said.

“The cause of stroke in young people often goes unexplained which can leave stroke survivors and their families fearful of another stroke in the future,” Dr Ferguson said.

World-first study to commence

One of the disorders thought to lead to stroke in younger people is a brain condition called Cerebral Amyloid Antiopathy (CAA).

The disorder causes bleeds on the brain, and is more commonly associated with dementia and older people.

“There are no established methods to diagnose the condition in people who are alive,” Professor Vincent Thijs from the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health told The New Daily. 

“Some features on brain imaging can point to the condition but do not provide conclusive evidence. So, research may progress if we establish a method to do this relatively easily.”

Professor Thijs will lead a world-first study looking into early detection of CAA and stroke in younger people. The researchers plan to recruit people under the age of 60 across four Melbourne hospitals over the next three years.

The research project is an important step forward and will lead the way internationally, the foundation said.

A family’s tragedy turns into hope

The new research project is made possible thanks to a $240,000 research grant raised by the Bennier family – who lost their son to a fatal stroke in 2017.

Described by his family as hardworking and a “true blue Australian”, Gavin Paul Bennier was 43 years old when his life was turned upside down by the CAA  brain disorder.

“He called a spade a spade. He was very capable, and had a very good circle of friends,” his father David Bennier told The New Daily.

On the morning of his first stroke, the Queensland-based salesman was preparing for his usual work day in the auto industry.

Gavin Bannier with his border collie Jill
Gavin’s beloved border collie Jill remained by his side for 15 years. Photo: Supplied

“There was no indication that he had a problem at all. It came out of the blue,” David said.

“He was paralysed down his left side. The early prognosis was that he would get out of hospital, but he would be in a wheelchair.”

In a brief glimmer of serendipity, Gavin breezed through his rehabilitation and walked out of those hospital doors in only six weeks. But, his good fortune would be short-lived.

Unbeknown to Gavin – and his doctors – the car enthusiast was living with a ticking time bomb, and a second fatal stroke would cut his life short at the age of 45.

“The odds were stacked against him from the get-go,” David said.

“It was even more devastating to find out that, what he did have, was untreatable and fatal. But we weren’t to know.”

After Gavin’s death in May 2017, a scan of his brain revealed that he had CAA, which may have led to the stroke.

“Nothing was going to bring Gavin back at that point in time,” Gavin’s mother Shirley said.

Gavin Paul Bennier headshot
Gavin after his first stroke in 2016. Photo: Supplied

“The whole thing was fairly frustrating to a certain degree, with no diagnosis. Even now it’s hard to comprehend.”

After discovering a dearth of scientific literature on CAA, the Bennier family set up a memorial research fund in Gavin’s name through the Stroke Foundation.

David and his wife, Shirley, said the grant is a fitting memorial to their only child – Gavin had his first stroke a little over two years ago.

“I think he would be inspired by the fact that in his passing there’s a legacy,” David said. “We played a tune yesterday that was one of his favourites, that certainly brought back a memory or two.”