Heart Rhythm and Stroke Prevention.

Our mission is to detect silent atrial fibrillation in the population and treat it, to prevent as many strokes as possible.

Atrial fibrillation or AF is the most common abnormal heart rhythm – it has been estimated that if a person reaches the age of 40, there is a 1 in 4 lifetime risk of developing AF. AF disturbs the flow of blood inside the heart, leading to formation of clots, which break off and usually travel to the brain, blocking brain arteries and causing severe strokes. AF is responsible for 1/3 of all strokes, which are largely preventable by anticoagulant medications, which stop the clots from forming inside the heart in AF. Unfortunately, AF is frequently silent, especially in older people who are at greater risk of stroke, and the first sign of AF is a severe stroke. 

The Heart Rhythm and Stroke Prevention Group’s main activities are to work out how best to screen for AF at scale, to prevent as many strokes as possible. We started off doing this in pharmacies, showing we could detect silent and unrecognised AF in 15 out of 1,000 people screened. We used a novel technology – a miniature ECG machine which sticks to the back of a smartphone. Initially, this needed to be checked by a cardiologist, but now the diagnosis can be made in 30 seconds. We also did some pilot studies in general practice showing that the practice nurses were ideally placed to screen older patients coming to see the doctor.

What impact will this research have?

If screening for AF could be implemented widely in those aged 65 or older, and this could be coupled with greater prescription of anticoagulant therapy as advised in guidelines, then many strokes could be avoided, not only in Australia but globally

Current projects 

  • Study in general practice using smartphone ECG and an electronic decision support tool (current)
  • Study of recurrence of postoperative AF after non-cardiac surgery in Concord Hospital, and now in Royal Perth Hospital and Gosford Hospital (POAF, current)
  • Collaboration with the Poche Centre to screen for AF in Aboriginal Australians in remote and rural NSW, extending to NT and WA (current)
  • Collaboration with researchers in Royal Melbourne Hospital to detect AF post stroke in Australia, Hong Kong and China (SPOT-AF, current)
  • Collaboration with researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to screen for AF in cardiac clinics, general practice and the community (over 15,000 people screened) (current)
  • Collaboration with researchers in Shanghai to screen for AF in community centres (AF-CATCH, current)
  • Collaboration with pharmacists in London to screen for AF in pharmacies and test pathways for referral for treatment (to commence Q4 2017)
  • Collaboration with Hamburg and Gutenberg Heart studies (Germany) on screening for AF (current)
  • Collaboration with researchers in Frankfurt Germany about epidemiology of AF (current)
Research group led by:
Research covers areas of:
What’s new in the lab?

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Current team update

Group Leader Professor Ben Freedman has been acknowledged at the Heart Rhythm Congress in the UK with an Award for Outstanding Individual who has contributed to Arrhythmia Services 2016.

Nov 30, 2016

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