Archive for the 'Research Articles' Category


JNF Awards $60,000 at 2016 SNIS Annual Meeting

The Joe Niekro Foundation was pleased to award $60,000 in research seed grants at the 2016 SNIS Annual Meeting in Boston this July. Among a pool of thirteen amazing applications, the Grants Review Board selected three to each receive a $20,000 seed grant that advances the study of brain aneurysms or brain arteriovenous malformations. The grants enable investigators to conduct research projects that address a specific hypotheses and generate preliminary data in preparation for major grant applications to corporations, foundations and governmental agencies. Founder of the Joe Niekro Foundation, Natalie Niekro and Treasurer of the SNIS Foundation, Richard Klucznik, MD presented each recipient with their checks.
We applaud all those that applied and look forward to granting additional dollars at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs in July.


This year’s recipients were:

Christopher Kellner, MD (left) – Fellow, Mount Sinai Hospital – “The Intra-Arterial Delivery of Modified Human Endothelial Progenitor Cells to Treat Cerebral Vasospasm Through the LArginine/NO Pathway in the Human Placenta Flow Model”

Cameron McDougall, MD (right) – Fellow, University of Texas Southwestern – “Next Joe Niekro Research GrantGeneration Bran Arteriovenous Malformation Model”

Alim Mitha, MD – University of Calgary – “Intravenous Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Aneurysm Formation”

(Dr. Mitha was unable to attend the meeting and therefore not pictured.

Congratulations to Drs. Kellner, McDougall and Mitha from all of us at the Joe Niekro Foundation™!



Nationally recognized non-profit, The Joe Niekro Foundation™ has announced the 2015 Joe Niekro Research Grant recipients. A total of $240,000 has been awarded by the foundation, which is committed to supporting patients and families, research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms, AVMs and hemorrhagic strokes. “We are honored to be able to collaborate with these amazing recipients and provide them with the critical funding needed to help support the advancements of neurological research,” states JNF Founder, Natalie Niekro.

Barrow Neurological Institute, has received a $160,000 grant for the study Deconstructing the vascular tangle-A molecular biopsy of cerebral arteriovenous malformations, by Joseph Zabramski, MD and Yashar Kalani, MD. This groundbreaking study will aim to understand the pathogenesis of AVM formation and identify signaling pathways involved in vascular development and AVM formation. This is the second grant Barrow has received from The Joe Niekro Foundation™ for this study and provides the funds to cover expenses for the entire 2016 year. “On behalf of all of us at the Barrow, we want to thank you for your appreciation and continued support of this project,” states Dr. Kalani. “We are incredibly grateful to the Joe Niekro Foundation™ for their continued support and ongoing efforts to help make this collaboration a successful one,” claims Joseph Zabramski, MD.

University of Texas has been awarded a $20,224 grant for the project, Application of Machine Learning Techniques to Improve Outcomes after Aneurysmal Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, by Huimahn Alex Choi, MD MS and Jude Savarraj, PhD. The goal of this project is the realization of a machine learning model that will reliably predict the occurrence of delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI) after a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage at least 24 hours before onset, allowing enough time for a meaningful clinical intervention.

A continued partner and collaborator of The Joe Niekro Research Grant, SNIS Foundation was the recipient of a $40,000 grant. This annual grant enables investigators to conduct pilot projects related to brain aneurysms, AVMs or stroke. It is the intention of the grant that the seed data from these projects will indicate feasibility and appropriateness of the research prior to applying for further funding; therefore, emphasis will be placed on research deemed to have the most potential for future funding. “JNF is a wonderful supporter of the SNIS Foundation and we are honored to steward JNF’s resources in innovating and improving care,” says SNIS board member and UCSF Interventional Neuroradiologist, Steven Hetts, MD.

Other 2015 grant recipients included:
Crouse Hospital – Syracuse, NY
St. Joseph’s Hospital – Phoenix, AZ
Child Legacy International – Boerne, TX
Houston Methodist Hospital – Houston, TX

Since inception, the Joe Niekro Foundation has awarded over $1,00,000 in research funding and has built a patient advocacy network that expands across the globe. The foundation provides education on the causes, risk factors and treatments of these conditions, while funding the advancement of neurological research.

Click here to view the list of previously funded projects.

For more information about funding opportunities including program guidelines and contacts, visit



JNF Names Medical Humanitarian of the Year

diaz imageThe Joe Niekro Foundation is excited to announce Orlando Diaz, MD as this year’s Medical Humanitarian of the Year.

This award honors a Houston based medical professional for their ongoing research advancements and treatment studies of cerebral aneurysms, AVMs and/or hemorrhagic strokes, as well as their philanthropic endeavors.  Dr. Diaz will be presented with this year’s award at the 2014 Knuckle Ball…A Pitch for Life gala on September 20th at Hotel ZaZa in Houston, TX.

“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Diaz with this year’s award. His professional and volunteer services go above and beyond and his endeavors deserve the utmost recognition,” states JNF Founder, Natalie Niekro.


Dr. Diaz teaching while performing an interventional surgery

Dr. Diaz travels frequently to South America to perform pro-bono services and treat the poorest of a population who would not have otherwise received any treatment. Dr. Diaz states, “Each time we go in these missions, we see our rewards in the faces of our patients and their families.  Our trips also allow for the opportunity to teach other South American physicians the latest techniques that are utilized here in the United States.”

Dr. Orlando Diaz is board certified by the American Board of Radiology and holds a certificate of added qualifications in neuroradiology. Formerly an assistant professor in interventional radiology at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of interventional neuroradiology at Ben Taub General Hospital, he joined the medical staff at Houston Methodist Hospital in 2007 and provides advanced neuroradiology and interventional neuroradiology services at the Texas Medical Center, West Houston, Sugar Land and Willowbrook campuses. He is the program director of the Houston Methodist Hospital Interventional Neuroradiologist Fellowship within the Radiology Department. He is also a part of the staff at Houston Radiology Associates.

Dr. Diaz’ clinical expertise includes:

  • Endovascular treatment of aneurysms
  • Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
  • Spinal dural fistulas
  • Facial AVMs
  • Vein of Galen malformations
  • Cerebral and spinal arteriography with 3D rotational imaging
  • Intracranial stenosis
  • Carotid stenting
  • Devascularization of tumors in preparation for surgery
  • Stroke therapy

Current research projects include the use of Penumbra coils in the treatment of aneurysms and other vascular diseases, the safety and effectiveness in the treatment of wide neck aneurysms with the Penumbra liberty stent, carotid artery stenting outcomes in the standard risk population for carotid endarterectomy – to evaluate safety and effectiveness of a new stenting system, the use of matrix and GDC coils for the treatment of intracranial saccular aneurysms, and Hydrocoil for endovascular aneurysm occlusion.

Congratulations Dr. Diaz and thank you for your incredible work within the neurointerventional sciences.  We look forward to honoring you on September 20th at The Knuckle Ball.



The Joe Niekro Foundation recently awarded three research grants. The first; a $10,000 research grant has been given to Dr. David Miller of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.  This grant will help fund Dr. Miller’s current study “Next Generation Sequencing of a Whole Human Genome.” The goal of this study is to identify the genes underlying the risk of intracranial aneurysm.  Dr. Miller specializes in Endovascular treatment (minimally invasive surgical treatment through the vessels) of cerebral aneurysms, Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), carotid and vertebral artery stenosis, and other vascular problems associated with the head and neck. Also specializes in minimally invasive treatment for spinal fractures and other diseases of the spine. “We are thrilled to be able to support a study that could be instrumental in aneurysm detection in the future and look forward to the outcome,” states foundation president, Natalie Niekro.

The second grant of $10,000 goes to The Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, Department of Neurosurgery for the project: Microcirculation and Brain Injury Following Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. The study, led by Dr. Gavin Britz will explore whether subarachnoid blood released by the penetration of the Willis circle artery penetrates paravascular space in the hippocampus (small region of the brain that forms part of the limbic system and is primarily associated with memory and spatial  navigation) and modify neurovascular coupling and astrocyte-induced responses.  “We are very excited to help support Dr. Britz’ study in this critical area of research,” states foundation Executive Director, Melissa Herklotz.

The third grant goes to The Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery Foundation (SNIS) in the amount of $10,000.  In honor of Joe Niekro, SNIS has named this grant The Joe Niekro Research Grant.  Each year, one research study will be selected as the grant recipient, which will help fund endovascular research of brain aneurysms, AVM’s and/or hemorrhagic stroke.   “The foundation has had a great partnership with SNIS and the SNIS Foundation for many years and we are honored to award this grant to such a phenomenal organization that is making huge headway in the area of endovascular research.  It is with great pleasure that SNIS Foundation is the recipient of these funds and we look forward to our strong continuing partnership for many years to come,” states Natalie Niekro.

The Joe Niekro Foundation is so excited to support these research projects and looks forward to sharing these results with you in the future.


Surgeons Treat Brain Aneurysms Through the Nose

Surgeons have discovered a way to treat brain aneurysms through the nose

Traditional methods of treating a ruptured brain aneurysm usually involve pretty invasive techniques, such as removing a piece of a patients skull, but surgeons at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have found a new way to stop the bleeding – and they do it by going right through the nose.

In a report published in the March 2011 edition of the journal Neurosurgery, Dr. Anand V. Germanwala and Dr. Adam M. Zanation describe a case involving Alfreda Cordero, who was the first person to undergo this innovative surgery.

“It really pushes the entire field forward,” Zanation said in a news release. “This isn’t going to change all aneurysm treatment tomorrow, but it gets the ball rolling so we may provide an additional option to future aneurysm treatment.”

Instead of doing open brain surgery or endovascular coiling, which involves snaking a catheter through the groin up to the brain to stop the bleeding – surgeons opted to thread their tiny equipment through Corderos’ nose to reach the two aneurysms, which were located right behind her nasal cavity. The new approach is called “clipping the aneurysms through the nose.”

“It’s taking the best from the coiling procedure, because it’s minimally invasive, and taking the best from the clipping procedure, because it’s more permanent — and putting them together,” Germanwala said. “We’ve proved that it can be done safely, it can be done effectively, and we can treat multiple aneurysms. It is something we can certainly consider in the future.”

Two years later, Cordero is healthy, and the surgeons consider the procedure a great success. “Her recovery was remarkable,” Germanwala added.

A brain aneurysm occurs when there is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel in the brain, and it often looks like “a berry hanging on a stem.”

And while most brain aneurysms don’t rupture or create health problems, when one does, it can turn deadly very quickly. As for surgery through the nose, the surgical team has used a similar technique to treat brain tumors, but never for a ruptured aneurysm.

To view Corderos’ story, click here.


Penumbra Coil Recall…Aneurysm Device May Migrate to the Brain

The FDA upgraded the recall of the Penumbra platinum coil for treating brain aneurysms to class I due to the potential for the device to detach and migrate, which can lead to stroke.  The Penumbra Coil 400, a medical device placed in the brain to treat an aneurysm, has been recalled because the device may migrate inside the brain, causing a stroke, blood clot or even death. 

The Penumbra Coil 400 recall includes 267 lots — F17211 to F18553 — distributed in February 2011, according to an FDA statement.

The small coil is placed into a brain aneurysm by threading it through blood vessels leading to the brain. Once in place, a clot forms around the coil mass, occluding the aneurysm and protecting the vessel from ruptures or leaks.

The recalled device has a pull wire attached to an included tool used to implant the coil. The wire can slip and allow the coil to detach prematurely, migrating to unaffected areas to potentially cause serious injury, including blood clots and stroke, the FDA said.

The coil’s manufacturer, Penumbra of Alameda, Calif., initiated the recall on March 4, 2011 notifying customers and distributors of the problem by mail, with instructions to return the recalled product to the company.

The affected product was half-distributed in the U.S. and half-distributed internationally, the agency statement said.

Class I recalls affect products with reasonable risk of serious adverse events or death with use.

Any customers with questions can call Penumbra, Inc. at 510-748-3224. Any health care professionals or consumers who have experienced an adverse event due to Penumbra Coil side effects should report it through the FDA MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.


When Life Takes the Unexpected Turn

You hear people say all the time that things happen for a reason…well this story is proof of that!   This past April, I traveled to Detroit to host Brain Aneuysm Awareness Night at Comerica Park, where I had the opportunity to address the crowd, throw out the 1st pitch and talk about The Joe Niekro Foundation.  I received a very gracious welcome and distinctly remember a specific group in the crowd that gave me a standing ovation after I threw the baffling Knuckleball across home plate.  A few days after I returned, I received an email through the foundation website from a man named, Mike, who had attended the game in Detroit.  He was writing to tell me he had learned that his best friend, Steve, had just suffered a ruptured aneurysm and was being treated at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.  Mike knew I lived in AZ, so was hoping that I could contact Steve and his family to gives my words of encouragement.  My numerous attempts to reach Steve wereunfortunately unsuccessful as he was allowed no visitors in ICU.  Mike and I stayed in touch during this time, as he provided me updates on how Steve was progressing.  Steve ended up spending over seven weeks at Barrow and was just recently released, but still under 24 hour care.  Flash forward to three days ago, when I received an unexpected and extremely welcoming email from Shellee.  Shellee, I soon discovered was Steve’s sister and was writing to tell me that she had gotten my name from Mike and was in town for the week, getting Steve adjusted to his new home away from home, the home that would be providing him with around the clock care and thorough rehabilitation for the next several weeks as he regains his strength and mobility.  Well yesterday, I finally had the privilege to finally meet Steve…and Shellee, and have to admit that yesterday made my entire year.  I had prepared myself for the worst, as I wasn’t sure of Steve’s current state, but was so relieved to find Steve copping a big smile and determined to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.  Steve’s courage is beyond words and his perserverance is unstoppable.  We talked for hours, sharing baseball stories, reliving the day of Steve’s aneurysm and putting together the plan of attack on how Steve is going to beat the enemy we know as  aneurysms.  I am committed to Steve’s recovery, just like he is and can’t wait to talk to him again.  So, last night as I lay my head on the pillow to go to sleep, I thanked the Lord for bringing me to Mike, Shellee and Steve.  The future ahead is a bright one and I look forward to this beautiful new friendship…one that was brought together by an unfortunate tradegy, but will thrive forever through our shared passion for life.    Mike, thank you for finding me.  Shellee, thank you for reaching out and Steve…thank you for… BEING YOU!

Natalie and Steve...Knuckling up for Aneurysms!


February 2019
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