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Q&A with Professor Diane Fatkin



Researcher Q&A


Q&A with Professor Diane Fatkin

Is genetics useful for predicting outcomes in people with atrial fibrillation?

Professor Diane Fatkin is a molecular cardiologist with research interests in inherited heart diseases, particularly inherited forms of atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy (any disease of the heart muscle affecting its function, size or shape). Professor Fatkin heads her research group at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Her current appointments include Honorary Medical Officer in the Cardiology Department, St Vincent’s Hospital, and Professor in the Faculties of Medicine and Science, University of New South Wales. Professor Fatkin received a Heart Foundation 2020 Predictive Modelling Strategic Grant, to investigate the role genetic factors play in influencing a person’s risk of developing atrial fibrillation and how they might respond to treatment.

What are you currently researching?  

Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm where the heart beats irregularly and often fast. Atrial fibrillation is a major public health problem. It is a leading cause of stroke and a contributing factor to heart failure and/or early death. A person’s genetic make-up is an important part of working out who is most likely to get atrial fibrillation and how they will respond to treatment, but genetic information is not part of current practice in Australia.  

We are using cutting-edge tools for rapid low-cost genetic testing that will enable us, for the first time, to look at single gene mutations and genetic risk scores. We also hope to understand how genes play a role in the way the body responds to medicines for atrial fibrillation. The cost and outcomes of genetic testing, and peoples’ preferences for testing, are also being assessed.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

This project will break new ground for people with atrial fibrillation in Australia and around the world. It will generate new knowledge about genetic causes of atrial fibrillation, and how genetics might predict complications such as heart failure and stroke. We also hope to understand whether genetics is useful for tailoring treatments, including medicines and ablation procedures. Our data will define high risk groups of people and will have direct implications for the screening and management of family members.

What motivated you to do your research?

My research started with a curiosity to find out how genes can influence the way that the heart works and cause heart disease. However, the main thing that motivates my team on a daily basis is a real passion to help all people with heart disease and their families.

Are there any achievements or discoveries from the past year you can share with us?

We are very excited about the new method that we have developed that allows us to screen heart genes at a low cost. This means that we can start research to look for rare genetic changes that may be causing atrial fibrillation in individual people. We are also very excited to use new analysis methods for assessing patterns of common genetic variants. These variants affect a person's likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation. We have already started gathering data in large groups of people and hope to have some results to share in the coming year. 

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

The Heart Foundation Strategic Grant has made a huge difference. Without this vital funding, our research into genetic causes of atrial fibrillation would not be possible. We are so appreciative that the Heart Foundation and all its donors believe that this work is important. This public support is very motivating for my team and we hope that our research will make a difference to the lives of many people. This project has allowed us to form new collaborations with other researchers in Australia. It will also be a training opportunity for our young cardiovascular research scientists. 

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Thank you! Atrial fibrillation affects the lives of so many people in Australian and remains a major cause of heart failure and stroke. More answers are needed, and research plays a vital role. Understanding the causes of atrial fibrillation is a crucial first step to finding new approaches to treat and prevent this often-devastating condition. Every gift, however small, helps to fight this battle.

Last updated05 December 2023