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Developing a diagnostic test for rheumatic fever to assist in the fight against rheumatic heart disease

We are currently raising funds to progress some very exciting research developing a new diagnostic test for rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic fever (RF) is an autoimmune disease that develops after a Group A Streptococcus infection (commonly known as a strep infection).  It is most common in children aged 5-15 years old. It is a major cause of health inequality in New Zealand, occurring at unacceptably high rates in Maori and Pacific children, as well as children from lower socioeconomic environments.  Each year, between 100-200 children are newly diagnosed with RF in New Zealand.

Rheumatic Fever can lead to inflammation of the heart, as well as the brain, skin and other bodily organs. It is the inflammation of the heart that can lead to scarring of the heart valves, known as rheumatic heart disease – resulting in severe complications, including stroke, or premature death.

Tragically, there are 160 deaths attributed to either rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease every year in New Zealand.  This is a troubling statistic, not least because both conditions are entirely preventable with appropriate care and treatment. RHD has been eliminated in almost all other developed countries in the world.

Diagnosis of RF is challenging as there is no laboratory test, meaning medical professionals rely on complex clinical criteria.

The lack of an accurate laboratory test means that a rapid diagnosis is not often possible and misdiagnoses still occur.  The important first step to developing a diagnostic test is to identify the unique biomarker common to all cases of the disease. No other research team worldwide has been able to identify this illusive biomarker.

Funding from Cure Kids over the past 18 months has played a crucial role in the establishment of a biomarker discovery pipeline led by Dr Nikki Moreland at the University of Auckland. This initial phase of research has resulted in extremely promising results, with highly technical scientific techniques discovering several new biomarker candidates in small numbers of RF patient blood samples.

Further funding is required to advance this exciting work by testing the range of potential biomarkers against larger numbers of patient samples. If one (or more) of these biomarker candidates are validated through this process, it will represent a significant discovery in the fight against RF/RHD in New Zealand and worldwide.

If you would like any further information about how you can support this research, please contact Pamela Canning at pam@curekids.org.nz or if you would like to donate, our bank details are ASB 12 3107 002326500 Ref: RF Test.