Neurologist says CHI Memorial's new stroke center will have big implications for city, nation

Dr. Tom Devlin, a neurologist who helped bring international attention to stroke care in Chattanooga, on Thursday revealed details about the new CHI Memorial Stroke and Neuroscience Center - which is now homebase for the neuroscience program at CommonSpirit Health, Memorial's parent company and the second largest health system in the United States.

Devlin is the director of CHI Memorial's neuroscience center, and along with Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center - another CommonSpirit hospital in Houston - the CHI Memorial team has created a testing hub for clinical trials that Devlin said will help fast-track new and better diagnostic tools and treatments for stroke as well as other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and cancer.

Speaking at a Chattanooga Rotary Club meeting Thursday, Devlin said that being a lead center for CommonSpirit's neuroscience program has significant implications for both the city and nation.

"We're really going to continue to put - for many, many years - Chattanooga on the map and really affect the lives of people around the world," he said.

Devlin had already overseen landmark clinical trials related to stroke at his former employer, Erlanger Health System, and is now leading five different clinical trials at Memorial. He said being able to leverage CommonSpirit's network of 142 hospital systems makes it easier to get better diagnostic tools and treatments to market quicker.

The new push for research and innovation at Memorial is also helping to recruit new talent to Chattanooga, he said.

(READ MORE: Thomas Devlin wins Champions of Health Care Innovation In Health Care Award)

The most dangerous strokes are caused by large blood clots in the head or neck that require a special procedure - called a thrombectomy - to mechanically remove the clot. Patients needing a mechanical thrombectomy must be taken to a stroke center with specially-trained physicians capable of performing the procedure, which CHI Memorial didn't have until the system began vying to become the new leading stroke center in the region.

CHI Memorial's first mechanical thrombectomy took place in November 2021. Now that the hospital has mechanical thrombectomy capability, Memorial's goal is to increase its stroke patient volume to the level needed to recruit more physicians capable of doing the procedure to provide 24/7 coverage.

At that point, Memorial can apply to become a comprehensive stroke center. Erlanger is the only hospital in the region with that designation.

In addition to conducting research and mechanical thrombectomies, in the past two years the Memorial team has started treating hemorrhages, brain tumors and brain aneurysms.

Speaking via Zoom at Thursday's meeting, Vani Nilakantan, system vice president for research at CommonSpirit, said being a large scale national enterprise gives the team an opportunity for its work to have an even larger impact.

"As a national Institute, we partner closely with physicians, Dr. Devlin and others to really move research forward and provide the infrastructure that is needed to help negotiate large scale contracts with our sponsors, as well as with collaborators and academic partners, and also federal agencies," she said. "So I think we have a tremendous opportunity here."

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.