Launceston doctors to research laser therapy for cardiac patients

09 Nov 2017

Two Launceston doctors will begin researching whether laser therapy can reduce cardiac damage caused by stents inserted into the arteries of the heart to fix blockages.

Cardiologist Dr Rohit Barthwal and general practitioner Dr Michael Fox were granted $77,900 by the Clifford Craig Foundation to fund the research, which will begin in 2018.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths in the Western world so when you have blockages in the arteries, what we do is we can treat them with medications or with stents or with open heart surgery,” Dr Barthwal said.

“There are more than 50,000 heart attacks in Australia each year and over 40,000 Australians die from cardiovascular disease annually.”

The project will look at whether preconditioning patients using low-level laser therapy through the skin will reduce damage to the heart when a stent is inserted.

“Almost one-third to 50 per cent of the patient population will receive stents, which are metal scaffolds that keep the artery open,” Dr Barthwal said. “When we do the procedure, we can cause damage to the heart muscle. In most patients, the damage is minimal, but in some patients, the damage can be fairly substantial.”

The idea for the project came about when the two doctors were chatting. Dr Fox, who works with laser therapy, suggested it may prevent damage.

He said there was already lots of research conducted with laser, now called photobiomodulation, in animals and test tubes, which showed the ability to reduce damage to muscle when stressed.

“When I saw this research with laser, I thought, that looks really interesting. I wonder if we could apply that to humans.

“The beauty of photobiomodulation is that it’s really simple to do, which a lot of the other procedures aren’t simple. It’s painless, it’s quick and if it’s effective, it could change the outcomes for thousands of people, not just in Tasmania, but Australia and really the Western world where heart disease is such a big problem.”

Dr Barthwal said stents were inserted into patients at Launceston General Hospital nearly every day. They will ask those patients if they are willing to participate in the trial.

“We’ll select around 200 patients in the first year, or possibly more, and the project will run two years,” he said.

“The patients will receive antiplastys and the procedure and everything will be the same, except that half these patients will receive laser therapy and half won’t.

“There’s no way to know whether they have received laser therapy. Michael and I won’t know, the patient won’t know, the nurses won’t know – it will be completely blinded, and we’ll just measure a blood test the day after to see if laser has benefit in terms of reducing damage of the heart muscle.”

  • The foundation announced its 2018 grant recipients last week.


Carly Dolan – The Examiner, Launceston