New research could lead to quicker, easier tests for heart attack patients

The Heart Foundation is co-funding research to see if a simpler test could be used to identify treatment strategies for people who’ve had a heart attack. If successful, some people will avoid transfer from regional hospitals for more invasive tests, and those requiring treatment such as stents will get it more quickly.

New research, co-funded by the Heart Foundation,could lead to less invasive tests and shorter wait times for people who’ve had a heart attack at less cost to the health service.

After a heart attack, most people have a coronary angiogram, during which a test dye is injected into the coronary arteries to look for blockages. This procedure is carried out in a special suite called a cardiac catheter lab, or cath lab, and requires sedation.

Some people will then have one or more small tubes called stents put in to help open up blocked coronary arteries. Others may require bypass surgery. However, over a third of people are best treated with medication alone.

Now the Heart Foundation is funding University of Otago Researcher Dr Charlotte Greer to collaborate on new research, co-funded by the Health Research Council, which will look at whether a quicker, simpler CT scan could be used to identify those people who don’t need stents or bypass surgery.

“We are hopeful the trial will confirm that less people need to undergo the more invasive angiogram. It could also save some people travelling from their local region to a hospital that has a cath lab,” explains Charlotte.

Currently CT coronary angiography (CTCA) is used to diagnose coronary artery blockages in people with suspected angina but is not generally used after someone’s had a heart attack in hospital.

“The quality of CTCA scans is very good and can be as good as an invasive angiogram,” says Charlotte. “If we can identify those who don’t need to go on to have stenting or bypass surgery with a CTCA locally, that means they avoid an invasive test and having to travel away from their area. It also has a benefit of reducing the waiting time for those needing transfer.”

This piece of research makes up one of three studies Charlotte will undertake as part of her three-year Heart Foundation Research Fellowship.

Research also looks at new anti-inflammatory drug

A second trial will involve assessing the effectiveness of a new anti-inflammatory drug that could be used to treat people after a heart attack. In collaboration with researchers in Singapore and Scotland, Charlotte will again be reviewing CT scans to investigate the benefits of the new treatment.

Meanwhile a third study will investigate how changes in heart function relate to outcomes in the decade after a heart attack.

Charlotte will use updated data about people who had heart attacks 10 years ago and look for features on scans taken at the time of their heart attack and a year later.

“In this study we’re looking at longer term outcomes and trying to identify patterns of change in the heart structure in different groups of people,” she says.

The Fellowship comes as Charlotte will next year do a PHD looking at the link between premature babies and cardiac function in adult life.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this work without the support of the Heart Foundation,” she adds. “It’s great that the Heart Foundation continues to fund cardiovascular research in New Zealand.”

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