Diane Fatkin looking at a petri dish

Atrial FibrillationResearch Update

An update on Professor Diane Fatkin’s World-Leading Atrial Fibrillation Research

21 April 2022

Families across Australia have come forward to take part in pivotal research being led by the Institute’s Professor Diane Fatkin.

Around 150 families affected by atrial fibrillation (A-fib) have now provided their DNA in a bid to finally shed light on a disease that will affect one in three of us in our lifetime.

Professor Fatkin and her team are undertaking whole genome sequencing to try to pinpoint the genetic abnormalities that cause A-fib.

“So little is known about the genetics of A-fib and what causes it. That has meant there is no genetic test for this disease despite how widespread it is. This something we are hoping to change,” says Professor Fatkin.

A-fib is a type of heart arrhythmia which causes an irregular and often very fast heartbeat. It can lead to blood clots and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The Institute’s team is trying to decipher the mechanisms that drive the electrical and structural changes in the heart that cause A-fib. They are examining single-gene mutations, genetic risk scores, and genetic effects on anti-arrhythmic drug metabolism using cutting-edge techniques.

“If we can find out the genetic cause of A-fib, we will then be able to predict which family members are at risk of developing this disorder in the future. This will allow us to start treatments early and also to make recommendations about lifestyle factors that can increase or reduce the likelihood of A-fib,” adds Professor Fatkin.

Currently, there is a one size fits all approach to treating A-fib, but Professor Fatkin is hopeful we will soon be able to deliver personalised treatments based on the results of a full genetic analysis.

“That would be a huge breakthrough for the families we are working with across Australia and beyond,” she adds.

Professor Fatkin received a $1 million 2020 Heart Foundation Strategic Grant which is helping to fund this important work. It is also enabling Professor Fatkin to embark on collaborations with other world-leading A-fib researchers.


Professor Fatkin and her team are providing genetic analysis for a project being led by the Baker Institute in Melbourne which is examining the risk of A-fib in elite athletes. Another collaboration is taking place with Professors Jonathan Kalman and Peter Kistler, world leaders in curative ablation procedures for A-fib, at the Royal Melbourne and Alfred Hospitals. The team is also working with Professor Ilias Goranitis, at the University of Melbourne, to investigate community attitudes to genetic testing for A-fib, and with Tanya Hall, CEO of Hearts4Heart, a cardiac patient advocacy group.

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The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

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