Research aims for faster heart attack diagnosis

We're funding research by Associate Professor Dr John Pickering, who wants to speed up the way we diagnose heart attacks in New Zealand hospitals.

Chest pain is the most common reason people are taken to an emergency department.

It’s crucial that if someone is having a heart attack, they are diagnosed as soon as possible to avoid potential damage to their heart, or worse – death.

Thankfully, Heart Foundation-funded research in Christchurch has already helped scientists find faster ways of assessing patients for a potential heart attack. We now know that it’s better to take blood samples every two hours, rather than every four hours.

This means fewer patients are now being hospitalised, and more are quickly being given the reassuring message that they’re not having a heart attack.

However, there is still much to be discovered, which is why we’re funding new research being carried out by Associate Professor Dr John Pickering, from the Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch.

Dr Pickering explains that the way heart attacks are now diagnosed depends on the amount of troponin in a patient’s blood.

“Troponin is a protein which can indicate heart muscle damage. If the amount of troponin changes in the blood over time, it can suggest that a heart attack is happening.

“What we don’t know yet is the exactly how often we should take blood samples and observe troponin changes to clearly diagnose a heart attack. Should we be measuring the troponin every hour, two hours or three hours? That’s what we need to learn.”

Funded by the Heart Foundation and its generous supporters, Dr Pickering and his colleagues are now measuring troponin when patients first arrive in the emergency department, and at several time points afterwards.

They are collecting data from about 120 patients in Canterbury.

“This will give us a clearer picture of how the troponin changes with time and, in turn, this will help clinicians know the best times to measure the troponins.”

This research will help improve outcomes for patients in New Zealand and could potentially save lives, he says.

Dr Pickering received a one-year grant from us in our 2015 research funding round. His study is called ‘Time course profiles of high-sensitive troponin in patients at risk of acute myocardial infarction’.