UNSW researchers awarded Heart Foundation grants

Researchers from UNSW have been awarded more than $800,000 in funding by the Heart Foundation to investigate the causes, treatment and prevention of heart disease and related disorders.

UNSW researchers have received two Postdoctoral Fellowships to support early-career cardiovascular researchers, three Vanguard grants to test the feasibility of innovative ideas, a scholarship for a health professional to undertake a PhD, and an award for outstanding innovation.

UNSW Dean of Medicine Professor Vlado Perkovic congratulated his colleagues on their success.

“Heart disease remains a major risk for many Australians, with high blood pressure and cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity continuing to increase. Research is improving the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the many UNSW projects which have received funding,” Prof. Perkovic said.

The UNSW recipients are:

Professor Kerry-Anne Rye from UNSW Medicine received a Vanguard Grant. She will use the funding to investigate a new treatment for heart attack survivors. There is currently a major need for treatments for heart attack survivors, who often have another heart attack within five years. The project will investigate whether a small peptide, D6PV, reduces inflammation after a heart attack. It will also investigate whether this benefit is amplified by using D6PV in combination with an inhibitor of the enzyme myeloperoxidase, which damages cells and is elevated in heart attack survivors.

Professor Levon Khachigian from UNSW Medicine received a Vanguard Grant. He will use the funding to determine the potential for development of a new drug for inflammatory cardiovascular disease, which involves unstable atherosclerosis and can lead to heart attack and sudden death. His work builds on recent clinical trials of antibodies or older repurposed drugs that provide strong evidence that cardiovascular disease is a treatable inflammatory disease. This project will investigate the efficacy of a novel chemical compound called BT2 in key preclinical models and aims to define molecular mechanisms with which the agent acts.

Dr Mayooran Namasivayam from UNSW Medicine received a Postdoctoral Fellowship. His project aims to evaluate heart muscle dysfunction in patients with restricted aortic valves (aortic stenosis) in the early stages of disease. The project will seek to identify how heart muscle performance can decline over time and identify which patients are at particularly elevated risk and should therefore undergo closer surveillance.

Dr Rona Macniven from UNSW Medicine received an Innovation award and a Postdoctoral Fellowship. She will use her funding to generate evidence on the impact of physical activity on the cardiovascular health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Her research will look at children and young adults’ physical activity participation, to identify how cardiovascular disease could be prevented.

Dr Thanh Nho Do from UNSW Engineering received a Vanguard Grant. His project will design a soft skin-like robotic device that can assist with a failing heart, which is unable to pump sufficient blood to the body. The device will use a novel soft artificial muscle which can be surgically implanted under the patient’s skin. The device will be made to suit different heart sizes and automatically synchronise with the heartbeat to augment the cardiac function.

Dr James Nadel received a three-year Health Professional Scholarship. His PhD will examine the role of the enzyme myeloperoxidase (MPO) in the treatment of plaques. Recent findings have demonstrated that MPO is abundant in vulnerable and ruptured but not stable plaques. The PhD will seek to confirm the link between MPO and ruptured plaque, examine MPO’s role as an imaging biomarker of vulnerable plaque, and assess MPO inhibitors as a potential therapeutic target for plaque stabilisation.

Heart Foundation CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, said: “Research is at the heart of what we do. Despite significant improvements in prevention and treatment over the past few decades, coronary heart disease remains Australia’s single biggest killer, claiming more than 17,500 lives each year.”

The full list of awards is available on the Heart Foundation website.