heart and stethoscope

Funding boosts cardiovascular research at Sydney

9 August 2019
University of Sydney researchers receive NSW Government funding to help combat Australia's number one killer - cardiovascular disease.

The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to better understand, diagnose and treat heart conditions and new genetic testing approaches for inherited heart disease are just some of University of Sydney projects to receive funding from the NSW Government.

Under the first round of the NSW Cardiovascular Disease Research Capacity Building Program almost $15 million has been awarded to 20 senior or clinical scientists, including numerous University of Sydney researchers.

Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard said the first round of grants showed the amazing talent and strengths of NSW’s research capability.

“The NSW Government has committed to turbo-charge investment in cardiovascular disease research to encourage our best minds to find the breakthroughs needed for patients,” Mr Hazzard said.

Imaging to improve care in heart failure

Professor of cardiac imaging, Martin Ugander received a grant for his project, “Heart Failure and Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Pathophysiological Mechanisms, New Methodologies, Improved Diagnosis and New Treatment.”

Professor Ugander explained: “A large group of patients that are difficult to both diagnose and treat are those with heart failure caused by high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. 

“This category of heart failure is particularly associated with inefficient filling of the heart, thick walls of the heart, and a reduction in blood flow to the smallest vessels of the heart.

“The use of MRI to help people with heart conditions is currently underutilised in Australia.

"This grant will help fund research to develop and use state-of-the-art MRI methods to both better understand, diagnose, and evaluate a new surgical treatment for inefficient filling of the heart.”

Pre-empting risk of coronary artery disease

Professor of medicine and interventional cardiologist, Gemma Figtree received a grant for her project titled “Discovering and translating new markers and mechanisms of atherosclerosis.”

She coordinates a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, driven by the increasing number of heart attack patients who are asking “why me”?

Through integration of molecular markers and advanced imaging, clinical phenotyping and innovative novel computational bioinformatics approaches, Professor Figtree plans to unravel new mechanisms and biomarkers of both coronary artery disease susceptibility and resilience. 

“Cardiovasc disease is our biggest killer so it is vital that we look at preventative approaches and seek to identify new methods for identifying subclinical disease before major life-threatening events,” said Professor Figtree.

Improving genetic testing for inherited heart diseases

Dr Richard Bagnall from the Faculty of Medicine and Health received a grant for his project, “Translating genomics to clinical care of patients with inherited heart disease,” which aims to develop new and improved genetic testing approaches.

“Genetic testing is an important step in clinical management of families with inherited heart diseases, but for many families the genetic cause of disease is not found using current approaches,” said Dr Bagnall.

“Most genetic testing focuses on protein coding regions of DNA, which represents only one percent of our genome.

“My research will look for disease-causing DNA variants in the remaining non-protein coding regions using both computational analyses and laboratory-based experiments.”

During his research project, Dr Bagnall will be engaging with NSW-based patients to offer free state-of-the-art genetic testing with a higher diagnostic yield than currently available.

Other Sydney projects

Other University of Sydney researchers to receive grants under the NSW Cardiovascular Disease Research Capacity Building Program include:

  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Associate Professor James Chong for his project “Developing new cardiac regeneration therapies to improve heart failure and myocardial infarction outcomes.”
  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Professor Clara Chow for her project “Prevention of cardiovascular disease in the clinical context.”
  • Cardiovascular Senior Scientist Grant to Professor Jennifer Gamble for her project “Manipulation of the Ageing Endothelium.”
  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Associate Professor Martin Ng for his project “A Novel Biotechnology Platform for Endovascular Treatment of Peripheral Artery Disease.”
  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Professor Christopher Semsarian for his project “Translating Genomics into Improved Care of Inherited Heart Disease and Sudden Death Families.”

Affiliates awarded

  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Dr Vivien Chen, ANZAC Research Institute, for “Procoagulant platelets: a novel target in cardiovascular disease.”
  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Professor Leonard Kritharides - ANZAC Research Institute, for “Reverse cholesterol transport in at risk populations.”
  • Cardiovascular Clinician Scientist Grant to Dr John O’Sullivan, Heart Research Institute, for “Giving the Failing Heart the Nutrients it Needs.”

Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said: “The University of Sydney’s success in this program is a testament to the strength and breadth of our research in cardiovascular disease.

“The work of our people is set to dramatically improve the heart health of the Australian population in the future.”

Further information on all recipients and their research projects is available on the NSW Office for Health and Medical Research website.


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