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Blossom outside ClocktowerTuesday 29 September 2015 11:43am

Heart image

University of Otago researchers have been awarded grants to pursue six research projects in the latest annual National Heart Foundation funding round announced today.

The Otago projects cover biomedical, clinical and public health aspects of heart-related research.

They involve studies into:

  • Early detection of unstable plaque in arteries,
  • Cardiovascular health in Christchurch's Pacific communities,
  • Improving cardiovascular risk prediction in the general population,
  • Heart disease risk markers in healthy volunteers,
  • Changes over time in levels of a biomarker used to diagnose heart attacks,
  • Physiological relevance of the two forms of the cardioprotective hormone ghrelin.

A number of the projects are being led by researchers in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch, which hosts the world-leading Christchurch Heart Institute.

Otago Project grants:

High resolution multi-energy CT imaging of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque

Dr Nigel Anderson (Radiology, University of Otago, Christchurch)

Soft unstable plaque which breaks off the walls of arteries is the major cause of strokes and heart attacks and often occurs in people considered low risk beforehand. Preliminary work showed potential for novel MARS small animal spectral CT imaging which was developed in Christchurch) to detect this unstable plaque. We intend to scan more plaque specimens, and scan mice with atherosclerotic plaque in a way that can be translated to human imaging once a human size MARS spectral CT has been built. Then people who really are at risk might avoid the devastating consequences of stroke and heart attack.

Cardiovascular and lipoprotein profiles of Pacific in Canterbury – the Pasifika Heart Study

Dr Allamanda Faatoese (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)

The Pacific population in New Zealand suffer worse health outcomes than the general population, namely obesity, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Past health data has been derived from Pacific communities living in Auckland, who have vastly different environments than Pacific living in Christchurch. Little is known about the cardiovascular health profile of the Christchurch Pacific community; therefore, this study will document levels of known cardiovascular risk factors and investigate new markers associated with cardiovascular risk.

Improving cardiovascular risk prediction in the general population

Dr Anna Pilbrow (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)

In the general population, screening for cardiovascular events is performed in primary care using the 5-year Cardiovascular Risk Charts, which incorporates traditional risk factors such as age and smoking. However, traditional risk factor profiling fails to identify many high-risk individuals, with more than 50% of heart disease deaths occurring in people considered to be at moderate risk. Our research aims to find new circulating markers that improve assessment of cardiovascular risk in the general population. This may deliver new blood tests, leading to better monitoring and use of preventative strategies in those at risk.

Otago Small Project grants

Heart disease risk markers in Canterbury healthy volunteers

Professor Vicky Cameron (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)

Since 2002 the Christchurch Heart Institute has been recruiting a cohort of heart-healthy volunteers randomly selected from the Canterbury electoral rolls, to provide control DNA and plasma samples for discovery of new circulating markers to predict future cardiac events. Approximately 3300 Healthy Volunteers have been recruited to date and their DNA, plasma and clinical information have contributed to a total of 24 scientific papers on topics as diverse as genetic markers of coronary disease progression and an international echocardiography study. However, their full value as a healthy control sample has been constrained by the lack of information on established risk factors, such as cholesterol profiles, urate and creatinine, for comparison with our many patient cohorts. We have archived samples for these analyses but have not had funds to run the tests. This application seeks funding for laboratory testing of known markers for heart disease risk in stored, frozen samples from a subset of community volunteers who were asymptomatic for heart disease at recruitment, comparing those who have subsequently gone on to have a heart disease event, and a matched comparator group remaining event free for at least 5 years.

Time course profiles of high sensitive troponin in patients at risk of acute myocardial infarction

Dr John Pickering (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)

High sensitive troponin measurements from blood samples of chest pain patients have begun to be used in New Zealand Emergency Departments to identify those with acute myocardial infarction and exclude those without. The diagnosis critically depends on how the troponin changes with time. This is unknown. This study will measure in 120 patients at risk of acute myocardial infarction two high-sensitive troponins at up to 8 time points. The resulting profiles of how the troponins change in time will be used to identify optimal times between samples for ruling in and ruling out acute myocardial infarction.

A PILOT study – identifying the physiological relevance of acyl vs non-acyl ghrelin for modulating cardiac sympathetic nerve activity following acute myocardial infarction

Dr Daryl Schwenke (Physiology)

The peptide hormone Ghrelin has been shown to have striking cardioprotective properties, particularly via its sympatho-inhibitory effects following acute myocardial infarction. Interestingly, although two circulating isoforms of ghrelin exist, acyl and des-acyl ghrelin, all of ghrelin's biological activity has been attributed to the acyl isoform because it has long been accepted that des-acyl ghrelin is void of any biological activity. Recent evidence, however, suggests that des-acyl ghrelin may also play a pivotal role in several physiological systems, independent of acyl ghrelin. Accordingly, this study aims to identify whether ghrelin's sympatho-inhibitory properties following acute MI are attributable to acyl-, des-acyl, or a combination of both isoforms of ghrelin, and thus establish the therapeutic potential of des-acyl ghrelin in the sympathetic-cardiac axis.

For more information, contact:

Simon Ancell
Communications Section
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 5016

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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