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NZ heart research could have global impact

NZ heart research could have global impact

A new nationwide research project will investigate whether giving oxygen to heart attack patients is actually helping.

The results could affect the way oxygen therapy is administered both here and internationally.

To mark World Heart Day, the Heart Foundation has today announced $1.7 million in new funding for research and cardiology training.

Auckland cardiologist Professor Ralph Stewart and his research team have received a $150,000 grant for a three-year study into the use of oxygen therapy for treating heart attacks.

He says a heart attack is caused by the sudden blockage of an artery carrying blood to the heart, resulting in a lack of oxygen needed for the heart muscle to stay alive.

“As such, oxygen has for many years been routinely given to patients who have a heart attack – although its benefits have recently been questioned.

“Some small studies suggest it may be harmful by actually decreasing blood flow. Currently we do not know whether oxygen is beneficial, harmful or has no effect.”

Because oxygen is a standard form of treatment internationally, the team’s research could have a wide impact, says Professor Stewart.

“This is important knowledge which is relevant to treatment guidelines in all countries.”

His research team of cardiologists, emergency medicine specialists and ambulance services will carry out a large randomised clinical trial in hospitals throughout the country.

The study will include patients who present with a heart attack to ambulance services and emergency departments.

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“We will assess two different common strategies for giving oxygen – one to all heart attack patients and the other only if blood oxygen is reduced – and this will allow us to determine whether one is preferred,” says Professor Stewart.

The team will look at whether the number of people who die within 30 days of treatment differs between the two types of oxygen therapy.

Professor Stewart – who currently works at Auckland City Hospital, Green Lane Cardiovascular Research Unit and Auckland Heart Group – estimates about 13,000 patients are admitted to New Zealand hospitals with a heart attack each year.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin says heart disease is still the number-one killer in New Zealand and many of the deaths are premature and preventable.

“That's why research remains so important. Projects like Professor Stewart’s are vital because they help us improve the standard of cardiac treatment in New Zealand, and help save lives.”

Devlin says Professor Stewart’s project is exciting because it involves not only cardiologists and physicians around the country, but also our first responder ambulance service.

“I have no doubt it will also be instrumental in informing not only national but also international guidelines on how we use oxygen in patients with heart attacks.”

The Heart Foundation is New Zealand’s leading independent funder of heart research, and has invested more than $55 million into research and cardiology training since 1970.

Its 2015 funding round includes seven project grants, 10 Fellowships, seven small project grants and five travel grants. They span a range of clinical, biomedical and public health topics.

Today’s funding announcement brings the charity’s total funding in 2015 to $2.6 million.


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