Researchers at the Heart Research Institute (HRI), a not-for-profit research organisation, are appealing to the public to help fund research into the prevention of heart attack.
The research team, led by Professor Roland Stocker, is working on creating a world-first diagnostic test to help identify and potentially treat people who are at high risk of heart attack due to the presence of unstable plaque in the arteries.
According to Professor Stocker, unstable plaques may be responsible for 30-50% of heart attacks, and there is currently no early warning that an individual is at risk.
In research published in the European Heart Journal in 2018, Professor Stocker and his team have discovered the inflammatory enzyme responsible for causing unstable plaques in mice and that blocking the activity of the enzyme with an inhibitor or eliminating the enzyme completely, prevented unstable plaques from being formed.
While the initial discovery was done in mice, Professor Stocker says that the research team “now want to conduct clinical trials to understand if we can block unstable plaques from rupturing in high-risk patients”.
“There are ways to detect and treat stable plaques before they restrict blood flow, but the same is currently not the case for unstable plaques [which] are prone to rupture even before they are large enough to obstruct blood flow,” says Professor Stocker.
“There are currently no simple, non-invasive tests available to specifically detect unstable plaque.
“This means that most people will only discover they had unstable plaque after experiencing a heart attack. It also means that we cannot and do not know whether existing or new drugs provide a treatment option for unstable plaque,” he says.
Professor Stocker explains that the first step in moving the research forward “will take 18-24 months, to ensure the inhibitor blocks the inflammatory enzyme activity in human plaque”, after which point the research “can then proceed to testing whether the drug can decrease inflammation in plaque and improve heart function”.
Dr Stephen Hollings, CEO of the HRI says that organisation needs $1.2m to move professor Stocker’s research to the next stage.
“HRI is a not-for-profit and receives some government funding, but we rely on the community for 80% of our funds,” says Dr Hollings.
“We hope this fundraising appeal will enable the research team to test their discovery on humans and show we can detect and prevent heart attacks outside lab models.
“Ultimately this would save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world each year.”
For more information and to make a donation towards this research, visit: hri.org.au/heart-attack