Researchers from UNSW have been awarded $1.8 million in Heart Foundation funding to investigate the causes, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease and related disorders.

UNSW researchers have received funding across multiple Heart Foundation competitive funding schemes including three Vanguard grants to test the feasibility of innovative ideas, two Future Leader Fellowships, two scholarships for health professionals to undertake a PhD, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship to support early-career cardiovascular researchers. 

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

“Cardiovascular heart disease remains Australia’s single biggest killer, despite many improvements in the prevention and treatment of the disease. The UNSW projects that have received funding have great potential to make a significant impact on heart health in Australia, and I look forward to seeing their outcomes,” Prof. Perkovic said.

The UNSW recipients are:

Dr Ryan Courtney from UNSW Medicine, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre received a Future Leader Fellowship. Tobacco smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Reducing smoking among low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) groups is a national health priority. Dr Courtney will use the funding to provide much needed evidence on how to best support smokers to use vaporised nicotine products (VNPs or e-cigarettes) when trying to quit smoking, but also how to support a transition away from VNP use following smoking cessation.

The findings of this Fellowship will assist Australian and international decision makers to make evidence-based decisions on treatments for low-SES smokers and will assist to guide new treatment service co-ordination and delivery.  

Dr Michael Falster from UNSW Medicine & Health Centre for Big Data Research in Health received a Future Leader Fellowship. Dr Falster’s project will investigate the use and adherence to best-practice medicines following hospitalisation. The project will look at the outcomes of patients using different therapies and identify types of patients and treating facilities where care can be improved.

The research will help ensure cardiovascular patients are getting the right care in the critical post-discharge period, and ultimately decrease the risk of major complications such as stroke and heart attack. 

Dr Sonali Gnanenthiran from The George Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health received a Postdoctoral Fellowship to evaluate new uses for old medicines or new combinations of medicines in patients with cardiovascular disease. New medicines typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take over a decade to develop. Repurposing already approved medicines has the potential to rapidly provide safe, effective and affordable therapies.

Repurposing commonly used drugs has potential to help both clinicians by rapidly translating research into best practice and policy, and people at high risk by supporting priority research in these groups.

Dr Damia Mawad from The School of Materials Science and Engineering, UNSW Science and Dr Al Abed and Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell from UNSW Engineering received a Vanguard grant to develop an optical pacing device that is leadless, lightweight and durable.

Electronic pacing devices, such as the pacemaker or the defibrillator, are required when the body is unable to sustain regular heart contraction. However, despite their tremendous therapeutic benefits, the electronic components are a major risk factor linked to complications that cause morbidity. Dr Mawad, in collaboration with Dr Al Abed and Prof. Lovell from UNSW Engineering, will develop a thin film patch fabricated from organic materials that can convert optical signals into electric signals, modulating the cardiac electrophysiology upon light illumination.

Associate Professor Shane Thomas from UNSW Medicine & Health received a Vanguard grant to evaluate a unique class of therapeutic nanoparticles for their capacity to selectively disable a dangerous group of inflammatory white blood cells and prevent them from driving cardiovascular disease.

If successful, the project has the potential to identify a new and safe nanotechnological therapeutic for targeting inflammation in cardiovascular disease patients and reducing their risk of heart attack.

Dr Amanda Wang from The George Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health received a Vanguard Grant for a pilot study on the benefits of a type of glucose lowering medication in patients with acute kidney injury. Acute kidney injury (AKI) is common in hospital care and rates are increasing. Dapagliflozin – from a class of newer glucose lowering agents called SGLT2 inhibitors – is known to have cardiovascular and renal benefits in patients with chronic kidney disease but its effects in AKI are not known.

Dr Wang will conduct a pilot study to look at the effect of dapagliflozin on cardiovascular outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes who have recovered from AKI. It is hoped that this pilot study will pave the way to establishing a large scale randomised controlled trial.

Dr Yashutosh Joshi from UNSW Medicine & Health received a three-year PhD Scholarship. His PhD will explore the role of potential cardioprotective agents (heparin, tirofiban, SGLT2 inhibitors and ASIC1a inhibitors) in improving donor heart preservation for heart transplantation.

Dr Lucy McGrath-Cadell from UNSW Medicine & Health received a three-year PhD Scholarship. Her PhD will investigate the genetics and mechanisms of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.

The Heart Foundation announced $13.9 million for 72 new research projects investigating the causes, prevention, and treatment of heart disease, stroke and related conditions. The full list of awards is available on the Heart Foundation website.