A University of Adelaide PhD student has won a major international award for his research into rheumatic heart disease, which affects large numbers of the Aboriginal population each year.
Dr Bobby John from the University's Cardiovascular Research Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital  has taken out the Young Investigators Award at the Asia-Pacific Atrial Fibrillation Symposium  in Tokyo, attended by 800 cardiologists from around the world.
The award recognises Dr John's research which links rheumatic heart disease with the development of the irregular heart rhythm, atrial fibrillation. Rheumatic heart disease affects more than 15 million people on a global scale - including 2.4 million children - and the Aboriginal population has one of the highest incidences in the world.
Rheumatic heart disease is highly prevalent in third world countries where antibiotics are not easily accessible and among indigenous populations in developed countries. It is caused by serious throat infections which subsequently damage the heart valves.
Dr John and the University of Adelaide's Professor of Cardiology, Professor Prash Sanders, are working together to help find the cause, mechanisms and treatment for atrial fibrillation.
Professor Sanders says more than 40% of people with rheumatic heart disease develop atrial fibrillation, which results in blackouts, heart failure, stroke and death.
"Atrial fibrillation on its own affects 1% of the adult population, usually aged between 50 and 80 years, but when it occurs as a result of rheumatic heart disease the complications are devastating. Those patients are much younger and nearly 18 times more susceptible to the risk of stroke," Professor Sanders says.
Professor Sanders' unit is investigating how atrial fibrillation develops as a result of rheumatic heart disease.
"Not much research is being done in this area because it is less common in developed countries and that is where the expertise is.
"Until 1998 we did not think we could cure such a chaotic heart rhythm disturbance but we are making headway. We have acceptable results with patients with normal hearts who have atrial fibrillation but we still have a long way to go regarding patients with abnormal hearts such as those with rheumatic heart disorder."