Monday, 29 October 2018

Monash research into ‘fat factories’ in the heart sheds light on the risk factors for heart attack

Dr Nitesh Nerlekar

MonashHeart cardiologist and Monash University PhD candidate Dr Nitesh Nerlekar has discovered that otherwise-healthy people with a low BMI may be unaware of dangerous fats on their hearts, potentially affecting their heart health.

“In some cases of heart attack, what you see on the outside doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the inside”, said Dr Nerlekar.

“We all have natural fat deposits (epicardial fat) around our hearts, but in some people, the fat deposits are much larger and act like a fat factory on the heart’s surface, dumping toxic waste into nearby healthy tissue and causing blockages to the main arteries.”

Dr Nerlekar is using advanced cardiac CT scans and US-developed software to analyse this unique epicardial fat and determine how and why it impacts cardiac health. 

“My research is measuring and quantifying the volume of epicardial fat, and looking for the dangerous plaques present in arteries that cause heart attacks,” Dr Nerlekar said.

“The BMI is an imperfect metric, but we do know that having a lower BMI is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer, and a range of other health problems.”

“We also know that for some people, having a lower BMI does not mean a reduced risk of heart attack, possibly because of epicardial fat,” Dr Nerlekar said.

Dr Nerlekar said understanding the role and impact of epicardial fat on coronary disease may lead to improved management of heart health through targeted therapeutic interventions.

Dr Nerlekar and the team are undertaking this research on patients at the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton. It is the kind of research that will occur onsite at Australia’s first cardiac dedicated facility – the Victorian Heart Hospital (VHH).

Opening in 2022 as a joint partnership between the University, Monash Health and the Victorian Government, the VHH’s focus on research, teaching and care of the heart will enable translational research to take place in the one location, where researchers, doctors and patients are all focused on heart health.

To learn more about Dr Nerlekar’s research, visit

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