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Using forensic science to help the heart and kidneys

Dr Moritz Lassé, Research Fellow with the Christchurch Heart Institute, a University of Otago Research Centre, has been awarded a Heart Foundation small project grant to help pick up kidney damage after heart failure.

Dr Moritz Lasse

“Research in the health sector is very rewarding and highly applied, which I really enjoy. It’s great being part of a team of scientists and clinicians at the Christchurch Heart Institute that are driving new ideas to improve patient outcomes and address sociodemographic challenges such as inequities and an aging population. I personally thrive in this environment. As a child I wanted to become a marine biologist and although I haven’t pursued this as a career I still have a great love for the ocean and enjoy sailing and spear-fishing in my spare time.” - Dr Moritz Lassé

The Heart Foundation announced $3.7 million of funding today for heart research and specialist training for New Zealand cardiologists in 2019, bringing the total awarded by the charity since its formation in 1968, to more than $74 million dollars.

The heart and the kidneys work closely together so when one gets damaged the other can too. A problem is there is currently no way of knowing if a person's kidneys were functioning when they presented at hospital, making it difficult to find out if there was kidney damage from the heart event.

"Damaged kidneys filter less creatinine out of the bloodstream resulting in an increased concentration in blood. The biggest hurdle clinicians face is that approximately 50 per cent of patients admitted to hospital with heart failure have not had a recent creatinine blood test, so it is impossible to detect developing kidney damage and provide optimal care for people with acute heart failure," says Dr Lassé.

Dr Lassé plans to adopt a technique forensic scientist’s use to measure drugs or toxins in the body by measuring molecules in the hair.

"Our test of measuring past kidney function, by looking at a single hair, will benefit all Kiwis. In New Zealand, heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalisation in adults over 65 years of age and about a quarter of these patients will have kidney damage and nearly double the risk of dying within a year. Having a better grasp of past kidney function will improve clinical decision making  which will hopefully improve a patient’s quality of life and their chance of survival," says Dr Lassé.

Dr Lassé says providing clinicians with a diagnostic tool to establish baseline or background creatinine would lead to earlier and more accurate detection of deteriorating kidney function, facilitate better decision making and thereby improve patient outcomes.

"The small project grant from the Heart Foundation will provide a great kick-start for this project! The funding will allow us to gather important pilot data to establish whether our idea is feasible. Without the generous support from all the donations people give to the Heart Foundation, we could not undertake this project." - Dr Moritz Lassé

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