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Cher-Rin Chong wants to make a difference to people living with heart disease.
Looking for a platform to help boost her research skills, Cher-Rin decided to pursue a PhD project at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health focussing on improving the energy efficiency of heart disease patients.
Now in the final months of her project, Cher-Rin has been examining ways to increase the energy of these patients, specifically studying a drug at the forefront of heart disease treatment, perhexiline.
“Every day our heart extracts nutrients from the blood stream and undergoes a range of chemical reactions to generate energy, which is then used to pump the heart,” Cher-Rin said.
“But someone with heart disease does not generate enough energy to keep up with the demands of their heart. My research has been focusing on not only how to reduce energy wastage but also how to maximise energy production of the heart.”
Investigated over thirty years ago by Cher-Rin’s supervisor Professor John Horowitz and his team, perhexiline has now become a common treatment for patients with heart disease, in particular those with angina, heart failure or a genetic heart disorder.
“Perhexiline is unique because it is the only heart disease treatment in Australia that changes the way the heart uses nutrients, and it does this by selecting nutrients that will maximise energy production,” Cher-Rin said.
Whilst a healthy heart will use predominantly fatty acids to generate energy, when someone suffers a heart attack or heart failure their oxygen supply becomes restricted and these fatty acids place more stress on the heart.
“Perhexiline works by replacing fatty acids with sugar. The heart then uses this sugar to generate energy, and it is more efficient for the patient.”
Being so unique, perhexiline has changed the lives of thousands of patients living with various heart diseases, but it can have side effects and Cher-Rin wanted to explore these through her PhD.
“The major downside of perhexiline is that it can lead to some severe side effects such as liver and nerve damage, and some smaller ones such as nausea and vomiting.
After analysing large patient cohorts who had been on long-term perhexiline, Cher-Rin discovered that when managed correctly, it is beneficial for those living with heart disease.
“We have found that with modern day regular monitoring some of these severe side effects are actually rare and can be potentially avoided.”
“Through my PhD I have also met with diabetic patients to find out the effect of perhexiline on their diabetes control.”
“I had some patients who after two weeks on perhexiline showed some significant symptomatic improvement.
Now wrapping up her project, Cher-Rin is excited to bring her new research skills back to her role as a Pharmacist and hopes to pursue further studies in the future.
“If a patient comes in with a problem I want to be able to use my research skills to solve it for them.
“Why can’t I be a Pharmacist who runs experiments in the lab as well? That’s my ideal job!”
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