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Passion through research – cardiology in the outback

18 May 2021 | Avant Media

A placement in Alice Springs piqued cardiologist Associate Professor Chris Wong’s interest in the stark disparity in health outcomes among Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the region. Being passionate about atrial fibrillation (AF) and improving the lives of the local people, he was inspired to do something about it, so he turned to research to investigate why.

“I did a quick PubMed search on the incidence of AF within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and found this had never been studied. That was a real eye-opener for me,” A/Prof Wong said.

Considering that onset of the disease among Indigenous people is 10 or 20 years earlier compared to the rest of the population, A/Prof Wong was eager to find out why.

Ground-breaking results

This led to the research theme of AF and ethnicity, and some surprising results. He and his team analysed 10 years of data held at Alice Springs Hospital and were amazed by the findings.

They showed for the first time that Indigenous patients did indeed have higher rates of AF. However, when the disparities in risk factors were accounted for in multivariate modelling, there was no longer a significant association between Indigenous ethnicity and greater AF. This means that it is these other risk factors that are causing Indigenous individuals to have a higher incidence of AF and at a significantly younger age, which could be prevented with changes in the primary care setting. These risk factors are high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatic heart disease and obesity.

“It’s really satisfying to characterise simple scientific observations that can help improve the lives of so many,” A/Prof Wong said.

Ongoing work on this topic includes reducing the risk of complications from AF in Indigenous individuals. For example, stroke from AF is easily preventable with blood-thinning anticoagulation, but they found that up to three-quarters of Indigenous individuals with AF were not receiving appropriate anticoagulation.

Other projects in central Australia include the utility of established and new tests to investigate and manage Indigenous individuals with cardiovascular disease.

“I am very grateful to Avant for their funding, which enabled me to investigate this further,” A/Prof Wong said.  “For example, by measuring the effectiveness of commonly used cardiac stress tests, we were able to determine if the results could be interpreted similarly for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, which was something we didn’t previously understand well and is surprising given their every-day use.”

Listen to this thought-provoking podcast as Dr James Edwards, founder of Onthewards interviews A/Prof Wong to find out more about the shifts in thinking about AF and left ventricular dysfunction.

Success tips

A/Prof Wong also gives some very useful tips and strategies for getting a research project over the line and securing a successful funding outcome. These tips could see you pursuing your passion with a research grant.

Do you Dream of making a difference?

Applications for the 2021 Avant Doctor in Training Research Scholarship Program are closing 31 May 2021. Up to $450,000 is available across a total of 19 scholarships and grants for full-time, part-time and short-term projects. Applications are encouraged from all specialties and fields of medicine.

The program provides funding through the Avant Foundation for emerging medical researchers to conduct projects that contribute to a stronger future for healthcare, while advancing their careers.

Visit: avantdifference.org.au/dit-scholarship for more information and to apply.

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