Baker Institute research leads to new heart tech start-up

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A new company called Nirtek has been set up to commercialise technology developed by researchers at the Baker Institute to detect unstable coronary plaques.

The condition is one of the leading causes of deadly heart attacks.

Nirtek’s technology uses near-infrared laser light to identify dangerous and rupture-prone plaques that build up in the arteries. This enables doctors to these build-ups before they rupture and block blood flow to the heart.

The technology was created through the work of Professor Karlheinz Peter and his colleagues at the Baker Institute. They work to develop novel ways to prevent, diagnose and treat blood clots.

Professor Peter’s team developed the science behind the technology through NHMRC-funded research first published in Nature Communications in 2017.

Nirtek will combine this expertise with the expertise of Swinburne University optical physicists for prototype design, as well as the skills of RMIT nano researchers to support large-scale manufacturing of the product.

Professor Peter said too many people are suffering from heart attacks even after undergoing an angiogram – the gold-standard detection measure for plaque build-up – highlighting the need for a better solution.

“While an angiogram can determine the presence and the degree of narrowing caused by plaque build-up, it cannot accurately determine whether an area of plaque is stable or unstable. Nor can any other test currently available,” he said.

The new technology is guided through a catheter that is inserted into the coronary artery being examined. Near-infrared light is then directed at plaques, which if unstable, will produce a signal due to the contents associated with plaque instability having high auto-fluorescence properties.

This auto-fluorescence signal is detected by the device and presented to the cardiologist, who may then apply interventional therapies such as stents or medication to stabilise the plaque, in the hope of preventing future heart attacks.