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Stroke Biomarker, Health Equity Expert Joins Cedars-Sinai

Alexis Simpkins, MD, PhD, to Focus on Stroke Biomarkers Research and Health Equities Initiatives

Alexis Simpkins, MD, PhD, a stroke expert whose research focuses on acute stroke treatment and prevention, advanced brain imaging,Alexis Simpkins, MD, PhD and improving health equity in patient care and diversity among trainees in stroke, has joined the faculty in the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai as director of Vascular Neurology Research and the Stroke RNA, Imaging, and Protein Predictors for Patient Tailored Treatments (SkRIPT) Program.

“Research that will improve outcomes for our patients is an essential component of our work in the Stroke Program at Cedars-Sinai, said Shlee S. Song, MD, director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center and the Telestroke Program. “We’re delighted to have Dr. Simpkins join our dedicated team of physician-scientists.”

At the University of Florida, where Simpkins served as an assistant professor in the Stroke Division in the Department of Neurology, she created and directed a program designed to recruit and match residents, fellows, and students to research projects focused on stroke using Team Science.

“We made sure these recruits understood social, economic and health care disparities in stroke, and we were able to successfully gather a very diverse group of self-motivated people,” Simpkins said. “At Cedars-Sinai, I will continue developing initiatives to recruit people from diverse backgrounds to work on stroke and cardiovascular disease.”

Simpkins also published research earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Ethnicity & Disease about the importance of understanding stroke survivors’ health perceptions and individual needs to address healthcare disparities. Focusing on a person’s individual perspective and most influential barriers to a healthy lifestyle allows health care providers to connect with patients and provide the kind of patient-tailored recommendations needed to achieve healthcare equity.

“If you're able to better understand how someone walks through life, then you're more likely to be able to come up with a regimen that's feasible for them,” Simpkins said. “The non-tangible things can be just as important as ordering the medication.”

“The commitment to health equity and inclusiveness at Cedars-Sinai is longstanding,” said Nancy L. Sicotte, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology. “Recruitment of faculty like Dr. Simpkins carries our department forward and strengthens our mission.”

Simpkins earned dual doctoral degrees in vascular biology at the Medical College of Georgia, where she focused on novel therapeutics for acute stroke treatment. While she was still in medical school, her father had a stroke.

“It was right at the pivotal time when I was trying to determine what type of residency I wanted to go into,” Simpkins said. “Being in the hospital with my dad, and the relief that we all felt when the neurologist said that he was going to be OK, solidified for me that I wanted to be able to provide that same feeling for patients.”

At Cedars-Sinai, Simpkins is building an imaging and blood biomarkers repository that also incorporates socioeconomic outcomes for bioinformatics in stroke to help clinicians better determine what kinds of therapies might be effective as adjuncts to currently available treatments. She said such a repository would have benefited her father had it been available. 

“At the time when my father had the stroke, acute stroke treatment options were more limited. We didn't know as much about other ways of screening for acute stroke therapies. Also, regimens used for stroke prevention were pretty uniform between patients,” Simpkins said. “Broadening our knowledge about how strokes progress and how we can tailor prevention and acute treatment for each patient will enable us to more effectively help a broader group of people. That's my goal.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Thunderclap Headache: Every Second Counts in Brain Emergencies