On Thursday 7 March 2024, the CVMM Theme hosted our very first international speaker, Professor Jeff Williamson for the CVMM International Speaker Fellowship.

The International Speaker Fellowship is a new initiative, where successful academics invite and host an international expert working in cardiac, vascular and metabolic medicine to visit Australia to strengthen existing or establish new collaborations with researchers affiliated to UNSW.

Prof. Williamson, who heads Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, welcomed the opportunity to visit and find opportunities to establish new research partnerships.  

“A highlight was the ability to develop and discuss collaborations between Researchers in various countries, such as Australia, the United States, Chile, and others. Meetings like this are valuable to developing these unique combinations of collaboration across cultures” he said.

As a global opinion leader in the cardiovascular medicine with over 67,000 citations, his work has had significant impact on the field and has changed global guidelines in blood pressure control for and cognitive outcomes.

Prof. Williamson shared his primary research interests in understanding relationships between chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and the maintenance of cognitive and physical function in aging adults, as well as in developing research methods for including older persons in clinical trials.

He began his presentation with a real patient scenario of an elderly couple asking, "What can we do to reduce our chance of spending years in a nursing home like our parents?"

“The audience was so engaging. We discussed the use of better hypertension control as a pathway to preventing cognitive decline, and how to overcome barriers to implementing the strategy and healthcare systems” Prof Williamson said.

Those who attended both online and in person heard why hypertension - a leading killer - should be the focus of the next breakthrough, and how blood pressure is a key pathway for reducing physical and cognitive disability in older people.

Dr. Ruther Peters, the first recipient of the Fellowship and host of this visit, highlighted how Prof Williamson’s tour to UNSW helped establish new international and national collaborations.

“As a result of Jeff’s visit, we have meetings already set up to establish a formal collaboration both with Jeff and with his connections to further develop our understanding around treatment for common later life conditions, in particular those with a cardiovascular and metabolic basis including hypertension and ways to reduce risk of dementia and frailty” she said.

Professor Williamson agreed.

“I believe that we will be able to develop specific collaborations on using research that has shown better blood pressure control leads to reduction in physical and cognitive disability and aging adults. These interventions are very cost-effective and can be used in people groups that Have low economic resources and often suffer the most severe consequences of conditions like hypertension” he added.

Dr. Peters, who combines clinical trials, evidence synthesis, and epidemiology in her research to understand and treat risk factors for dementia and frailty, emphasised the impact of Prof Williamson’s visit on collaboration development.

“We are also in the process of thinking through potential clinical trial designs and applications and are hoping to build future collaboration there also.”

The fellowship presents a unique opportunity for UNSW to enhance collaborative efforts and foster cutting-edge learning experiences for both students and staff. Its primary goal is to attract top-tier global experts to the university, with the aim of strengthening existing partnerships or establishing new collaborations with researchers affiliated with UNSW.

Our next international visiting speaker is Prof James Ware of the Imperial College London, speaking on the topic of polygenic determinants of monogenic cardiovascular disease on Monday 6 May 2024 at Garvan Institute. Register below.