A Christchurch cardiologist whose work has changed the way heart failure is diagnosed and treated in New Zealand and around the globe is the inaugural recipient of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation’s (CMRF) Lifetime Achievement in Research Award.
Professor Mark Richards was presented with the award at a ceremony on Thursday 8 July.
CMRF board chair, Geoff Cranko says they established the award to recognise the high level of health research done in Canterbury by outstanding practitioners. For 60 years the CMRF has invested in researchers such as Professor Richards with the aim of improving health outcomes through research to prevent, treat and ultimately cure life threatening and debilitating conditions such as cancer, heart disease, bowel disease and neurological disorders.
Cranko says Professor Richards was selected as the first award recipient because of the global impact of his work and his long-standing excellence in leadership and mentoring in research in Canterbury.
Professor Richards is a pioneer in the field of cardiac research and foundation member and long-time leader of the Christchurch Heart Institute (CHI). Cranko says under Professor Richard’s leadership the CHI has changed the way heart failure is treated here in New Zealand and internationally over more than three decades. “The CHI is a world leader in the development of diagnostic tests, treatments and the understanding of risk factors for heart disease.”
For more than 30 years, the CHI, formerly known as the Christchurch Cardioendocrine Research Group, has influenced international research in cardiology. Of particular note was its discovery in 1995 of a hormone called NT-proBNP that is produced when the heart is under pressure. The group, directed by Professor Richards, led a concerted research programme to understand the hormone’s usefulness as a way to diagnose heart failure and as an indicator of a patient’s likely outcome. A NT-proBNP-based test is now the most widely-used test for heart failure globally.
Cranko says Professor Richards and the CHI (which is based at the University of Otago’s Christchurch campus) continue to be innovators and leaders in the discovery and implementation of new blood tests for heart disease, diagnosis and treatment. Because of Professor Richard’s clinical expertise and leadership in the field of cardiology, CHI discoveries have been clinically implemented – a feat many other research groups struggle to achieve, Cranko says. “Professor Richards has directed research since the early days that is focused on the needs of patients and clinicians.”
About a decade ago, the National University of Singapore invited Professor Richards to establish the Cardiovascular Research Institute of Singapore. Professor Richards remains a joint Professor at both the Universities of Otago and Singapore.
In recent years Professor Richard’s work has focused on the characteristics of heart failure patients from different countries and ethnicities to understand how to better manage the condition in different populations and improve outcomes. Cranko says this work will likely improve and personalise how heart failure is treated in different parts of the world. Professor Richards and his team have also been working with research centres around the world to define the best use of the heart marker, troponin, to determine which patients can be safely sent home from the Emergency Department. Cranko says this ongoing work is revolutionary in reducing pressure on Emergency Departments and unnecessary hospital admissions.
CHI Professor Vicky Cameron says Professor Richards’ work and international leadership over more than 25 years has put Canterbury and the Christchurch Heart Institute on the global research map.