University of Otago Christchurch researcher Associate Professor Chris Pemberton has won this year’s prestigious Otago Innovation Proof of Concept grant to further develop his world-first test for predicting those at imminent risk of a heart attack.

Associate Professor Pemberton says the market the test would enter is valued at a ‘billion-dollars-plus’’ as it involves an essential diagnostic tool in emergency departments globally.

Most emergency doctors give suspected heart attack patients a blood test for the protein known as cardiac troponin.

Associate Professor Pemberton says cardiac troponin is normally only present in the heart muscle and is only present in the blood stream in large amounts if the heart is damaged or dying, such as in a heart attack.

Current troponin tests are very sensitive but give a lot of false positives. This means many patients are referred to cardiologists because of their troponin tests results when they are not at imminent risk of a heart attack, he says.

Associate Professor Pemberton and colleagues have discovered a novel biomarker associated with the troponin protein. They have developed a test which combines this new marker with the existing test.

This new invention gives approximately 5 to 10 percent fewer false positives than the existing test, and could detect 3 percent to 5 percent more people truly at risk of having a heart attack. These patients could be identified within two hours of being seen at hospital.

Associate Professor Pemberton used both tests on blood samples of people who came to Christchurch Hospital emergency department with chest pain and allowed their medical records to be analysed. This way he could see their eventual diagnosis.

Associate Professor Pemberton says he is thrilled to receive the $50,000 Proof of Concept grant.

“The money will allow us to develop the test into a format we can present to a manufacturing company.’’

“Not only do we appreciate the financial support but the expertise of Otago Innovation is invaluable in helping us take the invention from our laboratory and market it on a world stage.’’

“We are also extremely grateful for the support of the Health Research Council, who has funded a lot of the background research that allowed us to get to this stage.’’

Associate Professor Pemberton is part of the Christchurch Heart Institute, which is based at the University of Otago, Christchurch. This group is made up of scientists and clinicians who are focused on reducing the impact of heart disease in New Zealand.

The Proof of Concept competition was created in 2007 to encourage researchers to think about the commercial potential of their research.

Otago Innovation Senior Commercialisation Manager David Christensen says each year a wide range of ideas are presented, from mobile applications, to medical and other devices, to drugs and diagnostics as well as educational resources.

Mr Christensen says Associate Professor Pemberton’s idea was unanimously voted the winner by this year’s assessment panel that included venture capital investors.

“We are delighted to work with Chris who is nothing short of a serial inventor, and we look forward to progressing this new opportunity with him.”

Past winners of the competition include Dr Greg Walker of Pharmacy (2012) with a project aimed at reducing vascular injury during surgery, Dr Carla Meledandri of Chemistry and Dr Don Schwass of Oral Rehabilitation (2011) with a project focused on treating dental caries, and Professor Stephen Brennan of Pathology at the Christchurch campus (2009) with a novel naturally occurring anticoagulant product.