Westmead breakthrough for heart attack survivors could address heart failure

Associate Professor James Chong

Westmead Hospital patient Charles Coles, 57, had no signs of heart disease until four days ago when he experienced a heart attack.

The survivor, from Dural, has commended Westmead Health Precinct researchers for a breakthrough therapy that is showing promise in the ability to help heart attack patients recover.

“I had no signs of heart disease, just getting more tired. I’ve never had a heart health check but now I recommend everyone does it,” Charles said.

“On the day I had gradual build up of pain in both arms, restricted breathing and pins and needles. I thought I’d be fine after a rest but called an ambulance at the insistence of friends.

“Doctors found I had a serious heart attack with 100 per cent blockage of one artery and 70 per cent of another.

“I regret not being more conscious of my health and listening to my body.

“It’s great to see research and investment into heart attack recovery.”

The research conducted at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR), the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital found that infusing a protein (rhPDGF) can improve the patient’s scar following a heart attack, leads to the formation of new blood vessels in the heart, and reduced rates of dangerous heart arrhythmia that can cause sudden death.

The discovery was published yesterday in the leading journal Science Translational Medicine.

Westmead Hospital’s Associate Professor James Chong said the treatment is an entirely new approach with no current treatments able to change scars in this way.

“Following a heart attack, the heart muscle is damaged, causing thick scar tissue to form. This can limit the heart’s ability to function efficiently, and can increase the risk of heart failure, and sudden cardiac death,” A/Prof Chong said.

“By improving cardiac function and scar formation following heart attack, treatment with rhPDGF-AB led to an overall increase in survival rate in our study.

“While the treatment did not affect overall scar size, importantly we found that rhPDGF-AB led to increased scar collagen fibre alignment and strength. This improved heart function after the heart attack.

Associate Professor James Chong.

“Our collaborator Professor Richard Harvey, from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, had previously shown that the protein can improve heart function in mouse models following heart attack.

“This project has been developed over more than 10 years and we now have compelling data for the effectiveness of this treatment.”

Current treatments aim to restore blood and the oxygen supply to the heart as quickly as possible to reduce scarring. While this improves clinical outcomes, up to a quarter of patients experiencing their first heart attack will develop heart failure within one year.

Associate Professor Chong said that while we have treatment protocols in place, there is an urgent, unmet need for additional treatments to improve patient outcomes particularly after large heart attacks.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. It is thought that more than 400,000 Australians have had a heart attack at some stage in their lives and that there is roughly one heart attack every 10 minutes. Through our research, we have the opportunity to change the negative impact of these statistics.

“Some further studies are required to clarify safety and dosing. Then we can start looking towards clinical trials in humans very soon. rhPDGF-AB is clearly a promising therapeutic option, and could potentially be used alongside existing treatments to improve heart attack patient outcomes and survival rates.

“We now hope to further investigate the treatment, including whether it could be used in other organ systems impacted by scar tissue, such as the kidneys.”

Associate Professor James Chong is Co-Director of WIMR’s Centre for Heart Research and Leader of WIMR’s Cardiac Regeneration Group; a Cardiologist at Westmead Hospital; Associate Professor at the University to Sydney; Principal Investigator and Westmead Applied Research Centre.

This research was conducted in collaboration with University of Sydney, The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Westmead Hospital, Kolling Institute of Medical Research and QIMR Berghofer.

The Westmead Health Precinct comprises over 400,00m2 of high-end health-related developments, including four major hospitals, four world-leading medical research institutes, two university campuses and the largest research intensive pathology service in NSW.

This research was made possible by funding from NSW Office of Health and Medical Research, Heart Foundation, NSW Cardiovascular Research Network and Stem Cells Australia.