Our mission is to detect the earliest signs of heart and blood vessel damage
Our main focus for prevention of atherosclerosis is for children and young adults with risk factors for early heart disease, especially those who are obese, those exposed to passive smoke in the home, those who smoke themselves or those who with high levels of cholesterol. We are also focussing on subjects with pre-diabetes or diabetes and babies who are born small at full term.
What impact will this research have?
Early detection and prevention of advanced heart disease could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
Current projects and goals
We have a series of projects to detect early blood vessel damage in children and young adults and then programs to intervene to prevent late serious complications. We also study heart disease in those with congenital cardiac abnormalities with a view to minimising complications and maximising quality of life.
Detecting Heart Attacks
In collaboration with Dr Sanjay Patel and his group at the HRI, we have discovered that the heart releases certain proteins and cell remnants during a disruption of plaques (during heart attacks) and we can now detect these in the laboratory. We also have preliminary data indicating that a well-known anti-inflammatory drug, Colchicine, may be particularly beneficial in dampening down the inflammation associated with acute heart attack, with potential benefits for patients in this situation. Dr Gonzalo Martinez, a cardiologist from Chile helped perform this work, collaborating with our group for 18 months.
Early detection of pulmonary vascular disease
Pulmonary vascular disease or high blood pressure in the lungs, is a very severe condition affecting young adult Australians and (as we are increasingly finding out) older Australians also. In a series of papers, Dr Edmund Lau led two projects to outline novel techniques for detecting this complication before it caused more serious health problems. The first technique was based on ultrasound of the heart, and examined the right ventricle while in the other, researchers placed a thin catheter in the main blood vessels to the lungs and studied the pattern of blood flow and pressure using sophisticated mathematical models. In 2014, Dr Lau was awarded the Young Investigator Award from the Thoracic Society of ANZ, as well as the Pulmonary Hypertension Society of ANZ and papers describing this research were published in major international journals.
Young adults with congenital heart disease
There are now more young adults than children with congenital heart disease (inborn heart abnormalities) with the population continuing to grow in number and complexity. At the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), we run one of the largest Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinics in the country, addressing medical issues such as this. Our work with these young adults has focused on rarely studied conditions such as Ebstein’s anomaly of the heart, congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries and dextrocardia, the unusual situation where the heart lies on the right side of the chest rather than the left. We have also collaborated with the Department of Radiology at RPA to make important discoveries about a condition called non-compaction of the heart, where the heart is not assembled efficiently, resulting in ‘spongy’ rather than well-compacted muscle. We have discovered a new diagnostic tool to detect this, using MRI of the heart and have also defined its prevalence in young adults with congenital heart disease, as well as its functional consequences.