VANCOUVER -- Paramedics in Vancouver and Richmond, B.C., have joined colleagues in two Ontario locations to take part in a drug trial that could greatly improve outcomes for stroke patients.

Emergency Health Services said the B.C. paramedics, along with those in Toronto and the Region of Peel, will administer a clinical study drug called NA-1, a substance that limits brain damage if a stoke occurs.

Eligible stroke patients will either receive NA-1 or a placebo.

EHS said results of the trial could help researchers assess the effect of speedy treatment by paramedics, before patients even reach hospital.

Almost two million brain cells die each minute after a stroke, making quick assessment and treatment crucial.

Stroke Services B.C. spokeswoman Pam Ramsay said that if NA-1 reduces the devastating impact of strokes while a patient is on the way to hospital, the results could have tremendous impacts on recovery and rehabilitation.

While consent is required before participants are given a product in most studies, that would not be the case for stroke patients in the randomized trial of 558 patients.

Dr. William Dick, vice-president of medical programs for B.C. Emergency Health Services, said paramedics are at the forefront of groundbreaking medical research for the trial.

"We hope that this drug will one day reduce the often disabling impact of stroke and help stroke sufferers fully recover," Dick said in a statement.

A stroke causes a sudden loss of brain function because of interrupted or severely reduced blood supply.

EHS said stroke affects 62,000 Canadians and kills more than 11,000 people in the country every year.