Medicine (St Vincent's) - Theses

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    Novel biomarkers in the early detection of pulmonary arterial hypertension in systemic sclerosis
    Thakkar, Vivek Pramodchandra ( 2013)
    Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a complex disease characterised by extensive fibrosis, vascular abnormalities and autoantibodies. Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in SSc, and the early detection of PAH has emerged as an essential component of disease management. The hypothesis for this thesis is that biomarkers, either alone or in combination with other non-invasive screening investigations, may improve screening in patients with SSc-PAH. In this way, it may be possible to shift the burden of routine screening away from echocardiography. To begin, I present a comprehensive review of SSc-PAH focusing on the rationale and methods used to facilitate the early detection of SSc-PAH. Next, I present a systematic review highlighting some of the limitations in current screening practices, demonstrating the clinical need to further evaluate and refine current screening before making recommendations regarding the nature and frequency of screening. I then evaluate the screening utility of N-terminal-pro brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) in SSc-PAH, first proposing, and later validating a novel screening strategy combining NT-proBNP with pulmonary function tests (PFT) in a high-risk group of patients for SSc-PAH. Using this strategy, only patients who screen ‘positive’ to the proposed screening algorithm undergo echocardiography and further confirmatory testing for PAH. I show that asymmetric dimethylarginine, a novel biomarker of endothelial dysfunction involved in nitric oxide metabolism, may be an important screening and diagnostic biomarker for SSc-PAH, especially when combined with NT-proBNP. I also evaluate various other cytokines, chemokines and growth factors, previously suggested to play a role in SSc-PAH, and show in a well-characterised population of SSc-PAH patients that serum levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-13 (IL-13), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), platelet derived growth factor (PDGF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), fractalkine (FKN), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) are not specific biomarkers of SSc-PAH. However, VEGF and ICAM-1 levels appeared to correlate with markers of PAH severity and deserve further study. I showed the wide variability of measured levels of these cytokines, chemokines and growth factors in SSc patients, possibly reflecting the heterogeneity of this complex disease. Overall, I demonstrate that biomarkers, particularly when combined with other non-invasive screening investigations such as PFT, may identify patients with SSc-PAH.