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Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic diseases

Research in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are major health threats to Australians. We're dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating these chronic diseases with our world-class research.

Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have a devastating effect on millions of lives every year. The World Health Organization reports that cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in the world, while almost one million Australians have diabetes and two in three Australians are regarded as being overweight or obese.

We're committed to research that will help us understand, prevent and treat these diseases – from discovering new ways to detect vascular disease, to growing heart muscles to repair a damaged heart and improving wound healing in diabetic patients.

Areas undertaking research in this theme

We bring together experts from across our schools, centres and institutes in a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to chronic disease research.

Poor oral health can have negative effects on a range of chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and dementia. We're conducting ongoing research in lifespan oral health to further understand these links.

Research highlights
  • Our research reveals that treating gum disease improves vascular health.
Key researcher

Find out more about research at the Sydney Dental School.

Our obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease research programs include basic biology, clinical medicine and policy research into the most effective ways of containing risk factors. We have a number of world-renowned programs in the causes, prevention and treatment of heart and vascular disease, and in preventative public health measures.

Research highlights
  • Professor David Celermajer’s research on early detection of cardiovascular disease has included the discovery of endothelial function testing by non-invasive ultrasound, enabling the detection of vascular disease in children and young adults.
  • A study led by Professor Chris Semsarian involving genetic testing revealed new insights into the causes of sudden death in young Australians and New Zealanders.
  • A major clinical trial involving University of Sydney researchers changed practice by showing that the drug fenofibrate reduced the risk of amputation and need for retinal laser treatment in people with diabetes.
  • A home-visiting program to new mothers in China, supported by the Sydney Medical School, remains the only successful intervention internationally, in preventing obesity in early life.
  • In a world first, University of Sydney and University of Washington affiliate scientists have collaborated successfully to grow heart muscle cells in sufficient quantity to repair the damaged heart of a primate after myocardial infarction.
Key researchers

Find out more about research at the Sydney Medical School.

Cardiovascular research at the School of Medical Sciences examines new and innovative approaches to improve the management of heart attacks, the immunopathology of atherosclerosis and inherited risk factors for heart disease.

Particular strengths within the theme include:

  • clinical and experimental studies of cardiovascular disease
  • the roles of gene expression and polymorphisms in the development of cardiovascular disease
  • mechanisms controlling heart function and vascular tone.

Find out more about research at the School of Medical Sciences.

Research highlights
  • The cardiac research laboratory undertakes translational research focusing on the human heart. Uniquely drawing on tissue from the Sydney Heart Bank, we aim to investigate the molecular basis of heart failure and the intrinsic mechanisms of cardiac regeneration. 
Key researcher

In Australia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, renal failure, dementia, and other conditions of ageing are leading causes of mortality and comprise a substantial health burden. With an ageing population, the role of nurses in lifestyle and chronic disease management is more important than ever.

Research highlights
  • Professor Robyn Gallagher's research aims to help patients recover and lead healthier lives after admission to hospital for heart problems such as heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure. This work helps patients to reduce their risk of having further heart events, through cardiac rehabilitation, exercise and physical activity, medications and weight management.
Key researcher

Find out more about research at the Sydney Nursing School.

Our researchers are examining several key aspects to reduce accumulation of ‘bad’ cholesterol in cardiovascular disease and to improve treatment of diabetes. Other projects address how ‘bad’ cholesterol and obesity contribute to cancer aggressiveness.

Research highlights
  • We're identifying novel targets sensitive to ‘bad’ (LDL) / ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol in the cellular machinery that controls cell migration. This approach has the potential to critically improve wound healing in diabetic patients. In addition, lowering LDL-cholesterol levels also has significant implications for reducing cancer spreads throughout the body.
  • Current projects focus on pharmaceutical upregulation of transporters to enhance cholesterol removal from atherosclerotic lesions. This is closely linked to projects using molecular modelling, computational chemistry, as well as herbal medicines, drug design and development of new anti-atherosclerotic and anti-diabetic drugs.
  • Obesity is a newly emerging risk factor that increases cancer progression and reduces treatment efficacy. Reduced fatty acid release from obese adipocytes using anti-obesity and anti-diabetic drugs could improve anti-cancer therapies.
Key researchers

Find out more about research at the Sydney Pharmacy School.

Our prevention experts are working to reduce the prevelance of a range of chronic diseasess by bringing together diverse teams of researchers to identify ways we can prevent ill-health and promote wellbeing, including:

Research highlights
  • We conduct the NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS) - a representative cross-sectional, school-based health behaviour surveillance survey of school children aged 5 to 16 years. The survey is conducted by the Prevention Research Collaboration and lead by Dr Louise Hardy.
  • Our researchers at CCPANO are involved in contributing to WHO policy-related work around physical activity, obesity and nutrition guidelines and recommendations; support settings-based work in NCD prevention; guidelines for diabetes prevention and care; obesity primary and secondary prevention; physical activity guidelines, policy and strategies.
  • Our school runs the Students As Lifestyle Activists (SALSA) and Adolescent Asthma Action (Triple A) peer-led prevention programs dedicated to educating high school students with the knowledge and skills to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle and improve the wellbeing of students with asthma.
  • Our clinical research program at the Centre for Kidney Research (CKR) conducts broad-ranging research to improve outcomes of chronic kidney disease in children and adults with, or at risk of, kidney disease.
Key researchers

Learn more about research at the Sydney School of Public Health.

Centres, institutes and groups

  • The Charles Perkins Centre is based in a $385 million research and education facility at the University of Sydney dedicated to reducing the impact of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The centre brings together research groups from the enabling sciences, biomedical sciences, bioinformatics, clinical research, clinical trials and health policy.
  • The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders is a joint initiative of the Sydney School of Health Sciences, Sydney Medical School and the Faculty of Science. It is committed to reducing the individual and societal impact of obesity, eating disorders and lifestyle-related chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, mental illness and osteoarthritis.