Global Context

The number one killer in the world is coronary artery disease

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the world in both men and women.

CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts’ blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.

Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can’t pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.

A common symptom of coronary heart disease is angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs if an area of your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. Often however the first symptom is heart attack, heart failure or death.
A doctor will diagnose CAD based on your medical and family histories, your risk factors for CAD a physical exam, and the results from tests and procedures. However no one test can diagnose CAD. Diagnostic tools include:

  • EKG (Electrocardiogram)
  • Stress Testing
  • Echocardiography
  • Chest X Ray
  • Blood Tests

The Human Cost


The number of people who die of cardiovascular diseases globally each year


Global mortality rate

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer



A coronary event happens every…



The cost of coronary disease USD

Countries where heart disease is the leading cause of death

Lower to highest

The future of medicine is personalised 

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in New Zealand — every 90 minutes a person dies of its consequences. The standard treatment of implanting a scaffolding ‘stent’ locally into the diseased artery of the heart is used in more than 2 million patients each year world-wide. But in every 100 patients, 5 will experience severe complications and 2 will die suddenly from stent failure.

For some patients, treatment fails because the current generic method is not suitable for every individual. Differences in vessel shape and blood flow of the patient’s heart arteries influence the success or failure of the treatment.

Research Fellow Dr Susann Beier from the University of Auckland is currently investigating the improvement of treatment strategies to account for individual differences, moving the current clinical approach from a generic to a personalised effort.

The research group behind the Coronary Atlas Project have created the world’s first detailed statistical atlas of the anatomy and blood flow of the coronary arteries in normal and diseased patients to date.

By analysing the data of more than 600 patients, population blood vessel shape and blood flow can be explored using a combination of sophisticated super-computer simulations, 3D-printing and medical imaging.

Individual differences can be tested in the lab using anatomically correct coronary models tailored to specific patients and then 3D printed for clinical stent insertion. This will help to overhaul the current generic treatment approach to prevent complications and sudden deaths in many patients.


Through joint collaboration and the contribution of data – researchers and clinicians around the world who partner with the Coronary Atlas can positively influence patient outcomes, and stem the tide of mortality of the biggest killer in the world, coronary artery disease.




A world first

The coronary atlas is the world’s first detailed collection of shape and flow data of the coronary arteries in normal and diseased patients. This will help to optimise stenting and help patient care.


We strive to make a significant impact by discovering novel technologies and treatments for coronary artery disease. You or your organisation can support our research through donation and philanthropic funding directly through the UNSW Alumni & Giving campaign.