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PhD and Nurse Entrepreneur, Taura Barr, Works to Modernize Stroke Testing

Taura Barr, RN, PhD, FAHA, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at Valtari Bio Inc. is developing a new bedside diagnostic tool to help triage suspected stroke patients in the emergency room setting.

As an ICU nurse, just starting out in her career, Barr was exposed to numerous patient head injuries. She recalls having to tell patients and their family members that all they could do was watch and wait — with no indication of what the future would hold for her patients. Eventually, she grew tired of not having an answer for them.

“I had a patient come in with what she thought was a severe migraine. She had a history of migraines, so doctors told her to go home and sleep it off,” said Barr. “As it turns out, her brain was bleeding — she had a hemorrhagic stroke and passed away. This experience fueled my research over the years and inspired me to tackle this problem.”

A stroke happens every 40 seconds and is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is the first step to ensuring medical help is received immediately. For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons . This could mean that a person’s speech, movement and memory can be affected.

In the form of a handheld device, Barr is developing a way to accurately and quickly identify stroke patients from patients who mimic stroke and determine what type of stroke they may be having all with blood tests — both critical pieces of information for when minutes count.

"My test would give nurses additional confidence in their clinical evaluation in the form of an unbiased, objective test. To date, healthcare professionals rely on a rudimentary stroke checklist to identify stroke."

Passionate nurse innovators like Barr are overcoming challenges to continue to push boundaries in healthcare. Barr says she once felt torn between two worlds. As a nurse, she doesn't quite fit in with other academic PhDs, and as a scientist, she’s not quite in the world of many nurses. But she says her “hybrid” background and experience make her perspective invaluable; she approaches research in a way that empowers other nurses.

Barr’s advice for other nurses?

“So many nurses sell themselves short. They say, ‘I don’t know anything about business’ or ‘I don’t know anything about science -- that can’t possibly be me.’ That’s why it’s so important to create communities for nurses to innovate, get feedback, and mentorship.”

“Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table. Surround yourself with people who build you up.”

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