Developing a blood test to better diagnose acute rheumatic fever

17 November 2017
Key Researchers
Profile phot of Laura Dagley
Head, Proteomics Laboratory
Dr Laura Dagley has received a $22,500 AMP Tomorrow Fund grant to help develop a blood test that will better detect acute rheumatic fever in at-risk children.

Acute rheumatic fever is a significant disease burden in Aboriginal communities, predominantly affecting children and causing lifelong, life-threatening heart disease.

At a glance

  • Dr Laura Dagley is developing a blood test to improve how we detect acute rheumatic fever.
  • Acute rheumatic fever is prevalent in Aboriginal communities and can cause life-threatening heart disease.
  • AMP’s Tomorrow Fund grants recognise and reward individuals with determination and a plan to make a difference.

What is acute rheumatic fever?

Acute rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease triggered by a certain type of streptococcal bacteria, or strep throat. The infection can cause permanent damage to the heart valves, leading to life-threatening rheumatic heart disease.

Laura Dagley
Dr Laura Dagley has received $22,500 from the AMP
Tomorrow Fund for research to detect acute rheumatic
fever in at-risk children.

The prevalence of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease is disproportionately high in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, particularly in children living in remote communities. Despite a clear need, there is currently no definitive method for diagnosis.

A better diagnostic test

Dr Dagley said the current and common diagnosis of acute rheumatic fever relied mainly on symptoms including inflammation of the joints, fever and heart issues.

“In the past 50 years there has been little change in how this serious condition is diagnosed.

“A blood based test on a blood spot card would make it easier to collect samples and be ideal for remote clinical settings where this disease is prevalent,” Dr Dagley said.

Early detection

Using a technique called a mass spectrometry to measure thousands of proteins in samples of tissues and blood, Dr Dagley has found specific ‘biomarkers’ for the causes of disease in Aboriginal children.

“We were able to identify signature proteins of acute rheumatic fever in the blood of Aboriginal children,” she said.

“Early results show this approach is able to detect acute rheumatic fever which leads to rheumatic heart disease, therefore having the potential to reduce the burden of these diseases on Aboriginal communities.”

Funding to expand program

Dr Dagley said she was extremely honored to receive support from the AMP Tomorrow Fund and that it would help to accelerate and expand her research program.

“The support will help to facilitate an expansion of the program I have developed at the Institute, allowing us to enter into the next phase of our project.

“Our next step is to provide strong evidence that the disease signature we have identified can be reliably used as a diagnostic test,” Dr Dagley said.


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WEHI Authors
Profile phot of Laura Dagley
Head, Proteomics Laboratory
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