New study to unravel the mystery of Kawasaki Disease

Group of happy kids running
Melbourne researchers are leading a new international study to look at immune responses and chronic inflammation that may cause Kawasaki disease and the subsequent development of heart damage.

Kawasaki disease is a serious illness affecting young children and may cause symptoms including high fever, rash, swollen hands, red eyes, enlarged glands in the neck and redness of the tongue and lips. In some children, the blood vessels supplying the heart - the coronary arteries - are affected. Kawasaki disease is one of the most common causes of heart disease acquired during childhood. The heart problems can persist through life and may require coronary artery bypass or rarely even heart transplant. In Australia, there are around 300 cases of Kawasaki disease each year and thousands more world-wide.

Professor David Burgner, who is heading the collaborative study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The Royal Children's Hospital, said that it is likely that Kawasaki disease is caused by an infection that most children are exposed to during childhood, but which only causes the disease in a small minority.

Professor Burgner's recent research has found that Kawasaki disease is on the rise in Australian children, and much more common than previously thought.

"The current incidence of Kawasaki disease is almost threefold higher than the previously reported rate and continues to increase," said Professor Burgner. "The rising incidence reflects doctors being more familiar with the disease and a true increase in the disease. This increase has also been observed in many other countries."

The new study will explore why some children develop Kawasaki disease by looking at the response of immune cells (that fight infection), the longer term cardiovascular (heart and circulation) health, and factors in the blood that may suggest ongoing inflammation and cardiovascular abnormalities of these children. These factors will be looked at in comparison to children who have never had Kawasaki disease.

"We hope to answer questions such as why Kawasaki disease only affects certain children, and then why only some of those children infected go on to develop coronary artery problems," he said.

"The cause of Kawasaki disease is not clearly understood. If we can develop a better understanding of the cause and the factors leading to heart damage, this will not only improve diagnosis and treatment, but may provide insights into adult heart disease."

Professor Burgner and his research team are recruiting children and adults aged 6 - 30years who have had Kawasaki Disease, as well as children and young adults who have not had the disease as comparison participants. We especially need healthy volunteers aged 6-18 years. Participants will be required to attend a clinic at the RCH for a single visit, where they will be asked about their heart and circulation history, provide a blood sample and undergo cardiovascular testing including ultra sound.