Kovacic laboratory team

iSCAD - International SCAD registry

Australia scientists and patients join global effort to fight SCAD

30 May 2023

Sydney mother Lana Huntley has joined forces with scientists from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute to try and shed light on the number one of cause of heart attack for women under the age of 50.

Lana in hospital after her SCAD heart attack

Lana from Sydney’s North Shore has become the first Australian patient to be added to a huge international database of people who have had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, otherwise known as a SCAD heart attack.

Like most survivors Lana had no warning signs and was otherwise fit and healthy when she suffered her SCAD heart attack in 2022.

Unlike traditional heart attacks, SCAD is not associated with a plaque build-up and a blockage of the arteries and until recently little was known about this mysterious disease which primarily affects women.

Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute are now part of a global effort trying pinpoint the cause of the disease and accelerate preventative treatments.

They’ve become the first research team outside of the USA to join the iSCAD Registry – the International SCAD registry - a global collaboration of researchers and patients investigating the features and pathophysiology of SCAD.

Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, said: “SCAD is still a little-known disease, but it has a huge impact and is behind a quarter of all heart attacks in women under the age of 50. We urgently need to learn more about this disease and to discover what is causing it - this disease can not only be life threatening but in some patients, it can reoccur and without warning.

“We owe it to SCAD survivors like Lana, who had no idea she was at risk of having a heart attack.”

Lana’s sister Annette has also suffered two SCAD heart attacks – the first of which was in 2002. Until recently it was not thought to be a disease that had a strong genetic predisposition and Lana had no idea, she could be at an increased risk of having a heart attack.

Lana and her sister Annette

Lana said: “My sister and I are so lucky that we survived our SCAD heart attacks and it is vitally important to us both that we find out the cause. We were both relatively fit and healthy and had no warning signs when we had our heart attacks.

“Given we have both had heart attacks, you’d assume it was in our genetics. This is why it’s so vital we get answers so our daughters and nieces can be protected from this awful disease which hits without warning. I hope by being part of this registry I can make a difference.”

Evidence is now showing that there are at least 16 genes associated with SCAD. Professor Kovacic’s team is leading research into a gene called PHACTR1 which has been identified as having one of the strongest genetic associations with SCAD.

The iSCAD Registry contains the medical history of 1271 SCAD patients – who until now were all from the United States. Lana’s medical history is now being added to the registry with many more Australian patients to follow.

Professor Kovacic said joining iSCAD would make a huge difference to the research being carried out at the Institute.

“By combining forces with other leading SCAD scientists and being able to conduct research with the iSCAD team on so many more patients, we will be able to achieve far more,” said Professor Kovacic, who is also a cardiologist.

It’s hoped that Lana’s DNA which is being studied by the Institute’s scientists will also be added to the database next year.

SCAD Facts

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Julia Timms
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Lana and Annette

“It was a huge shock when my sister Lana had her SCAD heart attack. Like me, she was fit and healthy then, and we didn't think she could be at risk.“

- Annette Maher, SCAD patient

Acknowledgement of Country

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.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years