Dr Riëtte du Toit's continued interest in cardiological manifestations in rheumatology was rewarded when she recently won a prestigious research grant from the South African Heart Association (SA Heart).
"I find the field immensely interesting, but also challenging. We work with chronic diseases caused by the deregulation of the immune system, which then create problems for potentially every organ in the body, sometimes to a fatal extent in young individuals," explains Du Toit. She is a consultant at the Division of Rheumatology at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
She received a R50 000 grant which will be allocated towards her PhD research in this specialty. Her research addresses diagnostic characteristics and outcomes of heart dysfunction aimed at diagnosing lupus related myocarditis (LM), a complication that affects between 5% and 10% of patients with systemic lupus erythematous (SLE).
"Cardiac MRI is currently regarded as the diagnostic modality of choice to detect both clinical and subclinical disease. However, this is an expensive tool that is not freely available or practical to use in unstable patients. Echocardiography, on the other hand, is cost effective, accessible and can be used at the patient's bedside.
"The optimal use of echocardiography in LM has not yet been established," she says. "I aim to better define the diagnostic use of echocardiography as an accurate and cost-effective instrument in LM, especially for those in limited-resource settings."
The SA Heart grant is only awarded to one candidate every year, and Du Toit is grateful for the association's strong commitment to furthering doctoral studies in South Africa. She acknowledges the significant contribution this makes towards her studies, while allowing her to simultaneously contribute to the SU's research output as well as the national and international pool of knowledge.
"I believe the acquisition of my PhD as well as the journal articles that will come from it, will contribute to my professional growth in the field of rheumatology."
Du Toit says her passion has always been the cardiological manifestations of disease, even as an internal physician. "It was the clinical experience with our own lupus patients that motivated me to delve deeper into the topic," she says. She hopes her research will ultimately contribute to patients being diagnosed earlier to be able to be treated more effectively.
Caption: Dr Riëtte du Toit is the recipient of the 2016 South African Heart Association grant.