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Female researcher has patients’ best interests at heart

According to a recent report, one-third of researchers worldwide are female. One such researcher from New Zealand is paving the way for other women to enter the field of science and research.

Janice Chew-Harris is a young Asian woman. She is pictured here in a rural outdoor setting. She is leaning against a wooden fence. She is wearing a black and white striped dress and bright pink lipstick.Dr Janice Chew-Harris, Heart Foundation Research Fellow and Biomarker Researcher, Christchurch Heart Institute

Dr Janice Chew-Harris knew from a young age that she'd work in cardiology. She grew up with family members at high risk of developing heart disease and wanted to make a difference in their lives.

Most of the father's siblings suffered from high blood pressure and had to take daily medication to help. However, Janice was shocked when her uncle died unexpectedly from a heart attack at 48. This tragic incident inspired her to study cardiovascular diseases.

PhD studies lead to a Heart Foundation research fellowship

Janice completed her undergraduate studies in Dunedin and her postgraduate at the Christchurch campus of Otago University. She then worked as a practising medical laboratory scientist before pursuing a PhD in biomarkers and kidney disease.

Janice received a Heart Foundation research grant in 2019 and a Heart Foundation research fellowship in 2021. Her research focusses on predicting risk in paitients with heart disease. She is currently researching the blood test called suPAR, which may help to predict a patient's risk of a poorer outlook after a heart event.

Due to the complexity of heart disease, people may have multiple concurrent health conditions

Janice explains that people can have various diseases simultaneously because heart disease is so complex. "For example, when patients are diagnosed with heart disease, they may also have diabetes or kidney disease.

"My research aims to detect underlying inflammation that may contribute to the burden of heart disease and use this information to improve the prediction of recurrent events in patients with heart disease."

SuPAR is a blood marker that has the potential to predict heart events by identifying inflammation linked to the development of heart disease. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in New Zealand, research like this is essential to save the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.

Research yields intriguing results and prompts further investigation

Janice's results are encouraging. She is confident of progressing well, thanks to her achievements in creating a reference range. This range compares suPAR levels in healthy individuals to high levels of suPAR in patients with heart disease with a poorer outlook.

These results have been published and presented at conferences internationally and in New Zealand. There is a lot of development in her research currently. Janice is also investigating if suPAR is related to the heart itself. Specifically, she is investigating if raised suPAR levels have any consequences that may affect heart function.

Understanding the ramifications of suPAR levels in at-risk patients

In 2022, Janice received another research grant from the Heart Foundation to investigate the biological functions of suPAR. The aim is to comprehend why the levels of suPAR increase in high-risk patients and to explore the possibility of discovering new treatments in the future.

To help progress her research, Janice also mentors a PhD student and two Honours students. She is working with new collaborators to learn new skills.

"I am a scientist, not a clinician, but I am learning a lot about heart diseases. It is a very rewarding process, especially when I make discoveries," she says. "I find it extremely rewarding to pass on knowledge to my students and work together to find new solutions, experimentations, and of course, when we can generate promising results."

Walking the talk - Janice embodies a heart-healthy lifestyle

When she's not in the lab at the Christchurch Heart Institute, Janice loves to walk and exercise a lot, regularly visiting Hagley Park to take a stroll around the gardens. "I believe that exercise and physical activity help a lot with mental wellbeing and stress, and can help to prevent heart events in the future too," she says.

Janice is extremely grateful to the Heart Foundation and the many patients who have enabled her to obtain vital information and make the most of her generous funding. She is one of many incredible and inspiring women in New Zealand who are making significant contributions to their research fields.

Support the work of the Heart Foundation

The Heart Foundation is New Zealand's heart charity leading the fight against heart disease. Thanks to the generous support of everyday people in New Zealand, the Heart Foundation has invested more than $85 million into ground-breaking heart research since 1968.

To help fund vital research in the fight against heart disease, donate at