Neurologist blazes new trails in stroke research

Dr. Ronda Lun is receiving a rare honourable mention for the Worton Researcher in Training Award from The Ottawa Hospital for pushing the boundaries of stroke research

November 2, 2022

Dr. Ronda Lun“There’s still so much we don’t know about stroke, and as a researcher I find that incredibly motivating.”- Dr. Ronda Lun
For a neurology resident who spent the last five years sleeping in hospitals and saving lives, Dr. Ronda Lun’s research accomplishments are nothing short of incredible. 

In her short career she has published 32 papers, presented at multiple international conferences, and been awarded the highest honour for emerging researchers from the American Academy of Neurology.

“From the beginning of my residency I wanted to learn why neurologists do things the way we do,” remembers Dr. Lun. “Why do some people recover from strokes while others don’t? Why do we treat some patients with one medication and not another?”

To answer those questions, Dr. Lun sought out mentors at The Ottawa Hospital’s world-renowned stroke program to see what research opportunities were available. 

Senior scientist Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi introduced her to the world of intracerebral hemorrhage, an uncommon, understudied, and deadly stroke caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain.

“It’s disheartening to see a patient come in with intracerebral hemorrhage, because there’s no treatment, nothing we can do for them,” says Dr. Lun. “These patients often look quite bad at first, and half of them won’t survive the coming year.”

Neurologists have tools to predict the prognosis of patients with intracerebral hemorrhage, but Dr. Lun’s practice-changing research found these tools give more accurate results if used a few days after the patient arrives in hospital, which flies in the face of current practice.

“Our findings are forcing clinicians to re-evaluate how they look at this disease,” says Dr. Lun. “If you give these patients time, some of them do a lot better than we would have thought.”

Investigating the link between stroke and cancer

To push her stroke research even further, Dr. Lun decided to do a master’s degree in epidemiology, the study of how and why diseases happen. Her thesis tackled yet another unexplored area: stroke and cancer.

Physicians have known for a long time that cancer increases the risk of blood clots, which can cause strokes. However, the best way to prevent or treat stroke in cancer patients is still unknown.

Dr. Lun found several new things during her master’s research. First, cancer patients are three times more likely than the general population to have a stroke in the year after they are diagnosed. The team’s next step is to build a prediction model to identify which cancer patients are at greatest risk of stroke.

Second, Dr. Lun found that people who had a stroke in the year before their cancer diagnosis were four times more likely to have a second stroke compared to cancer patients who had never had a stroke.  This gives neurologists a window of opportunity to help prevent that second stroke.

Dr. Lun is also interested in using strokes to potentially catch cancer early.

“When we can’t find the underlying reason for a stroke, we start wondering if the clot was caused by an undiagnosed cancer,” she says. “We’re designing a clinical trial to find the best way to search for cancer in patients with unexplained strokes. Because if we can find and treat their cancer early, that could make a big difference in their lives.”

Originally from Calgary, Dr. Lun decided to do her residency in Ottawa after meeting our world-class stroke team and seeing firsthand their dedication to improving patients’ lives.

“Coming to Ottawa was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “I hadn’t realized my full academic potential until I started my residency and began doing research at The Ottawa Hospital. Deep down I knew this is where I would receive the best training.”

Dr. Lun balances her hard work with running, hiking and working out, as well as attending concerts and playing piano.

“There’s still so much we don’t know about stroke, and as a researcher I find that incredibly motivating.”

Check out this Q&A to learn more about Dr. Lun and what inspires her.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa and supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.