$1m in fellowships for stroke prevention and mental health research

22 March 2017

Four up-and-coming medical researchers have been awarded more than $1 million in funding to create and test new therapies for cardiovascular disease, mental health, substance use and mitochondrial disease.

University of Sydney academics Dr Nicole Lowres, Dr Sanjay Patel, Dr Kirsten Morley and Dr Ryan Davis received the three-year NSW Health Early-Mid Career Fellowships.

Deputy-Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison congratulated the recipients on their success, adding that their projects would directly improve patient outcomes.

“Congratulations to our talented researchers on receiving these highly-competitive fellowships.

“Their outside-the-square thinking and innovative use of the latest technologies has the potential to lead to real breakthroughs in treating and diagnosing disease. Ten years ago, we never would have thought it possible to have an EKG app on our phones, or believe the progress we’ve made in diagnosing genetic disorders.”

Professor Ivison said the University was recently ranked best in Australia and in the top 15 in the world for medicine, highlighting its strength in health and medical research. 

Dr Nicole Lowres

An app to help patients self-monitor after cardiac surgery

In association with the Heart Research Institute, Dr Lowres will trial an innovative, low-cost smartphone electrocardiogram app that helps patients self-monitor after cardiac surgery.

Between 25-40 percent of cardiac surgery patients experience irregular heart rhythms after their surgery, however early identification of recurrence after discharge and appropriate management could prevent fatal strokes.

This will be the first Australian study to assess both the incidence and implications of post-operative atrial fibrillation recurrences, and late-onset atrial fibrillation. The outcomes from this study will assist development of a risk score to better identify patients at highest risk of devastating complications, such as stroke, allowing clinicians to better target effective preventative therapy.

Dr Sanjay Patel

New treatment to reduce heart attack and stroke

Dr Patel (pictured above, right) will conduct clinical trials to investigate whether Colchicine, a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug, can stabilise and reverse plaque in blood vessel walls. Plaque build-up, which leads to heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death and disability in Australia.

It is anticipated that these studies, conducted in association with the Heart Research Institute, will demonstrate that Colchicine can inhibit plaque development and inflammation associated with heart attacks, and could lead to its introduction into standard clinical practice within the next five years. Ultimately, the outcomes of this research could lead to a major improvement in overall cardiovascular health in Australia, by reducing cardiovascular symptoms, related hospitalisations and deaths.

Dr Kirsten Morley

Improving treatments for those with both mental illness and substance use issues

In association with the National Health and Medical Research Council Centres of Research Excellence (NHMRC CRE) in Mental Health and Substance Use and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr Morley has developed a set of resources to improve how NSW drug and alcohol clinicians care for people who have both issues with mental health and substance use.

Comorbidity of mental health and substance use disorders pose a significant challenge for the Australian health system. Her stepped approach involves the provision of additional care for a mental health diagnosis after stabilisation from substance use, enabling the distinction between substance-related mental health symptoms versus symptoms remaining or emerging once substance use has resolved.

As part of her fellowship, Dr Morley will evaluate the impact of these resources to increase detection of comorbidity, enhance clinician knowledge and attitudes, and ultimately improve substance use and mental health outcomes.

Dr Ryan Davis

Improving mitochondrial disease diagnosis

Mitochondrial diseases are inherited disorders that impair the body’s ability to produce vital energy and are notoriously challenging to diagnose. Dr Davis is part of an expert clinical and research team that has transformed clinical practice at the Royal North Shore Hospital adult mitochondrial disease clinic through the implementation of serum-based tests that have improved the clinical indication of mitochondrial diseases.

However, these serum indicator tests do have a limited diagnostic capacity. Therefore, Dr Davis will evaluate new and more accurate diagnostic tools using metabolomic data and next-generation sequencing during his fellowship.

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