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Yolande Hutchinson
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Researchers from UNSW Sydney have been awarded more than $4.7 million in funding for three heart disease and stroke research projects.

The grants are part of $29 million for life-saving research initiatives announced by the Minister of Health, Greg Hunt, to tackle Australia’s two biggest killers – heart attacks and stroke.

This is the first round of disbursements from the government’s 10-year, $220 million investment to boost research into heart disease and stroke through the Medical Research Future Fund’s (MRFF) Cardiovascular Health Mission.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Nicholas Fisk, welcomed the large proportion of MRFF awards under this cardiovascular mission to UNSW researchers, and the emphasis on novel translational approaches exploiting apps, big data and algorithmic technologies.

“I congratulate our researchers both on their success, and on their pivotal contribution to preventing and ameliorating the consequences of stroke and heart disease in the community,” Prof. Fisk said.

A new app to reduce re-admission of stroke patients to hospital

Professor Ken Butcher from UNSW Medicine and Prince of Wales Clinical School will receive $1.6 million for a new app-based care model to reduce re-admission to hospital for patients who have had a stroke or mini stroke. 

“Our project will monitor patients’ vital signs using Bluetooth-enabled peripherals, medication adherence and rehabilitation activities via remote monitoring.  All data are connected to an app on a patient’s phone that are sent to a central database. The hospital care team then acts on any concerning signs by calling patients and intervening. This avoids patients returning to hospital with medical issues, including recurrent stroke,” Prof. Butcher said.

The project, called Total Cardiac Care – Stroke (TCC Stroke), will be run out of UNSW-affiliated teaching hospitals and selected regional sites in NSW via the NSW Telestroke Program, where Prof. Butcher is the Medical Director.

TCC Stroke represents a broad collaborative effort across the UNSW campus including the Faculty of Medicine, Prince of Wales Clinical School, Prince of Wales Hospital, the Faculty of Engineering (Biomedical Engineering), the UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute, NeuRA, The George Institute, and Centre for Big Data Research.

An online shopping tool to help reduce blood pressure

Associate Professor Jason Wu from UNSW Medicine and The George Institute for Global Health will receive $1.7 million to conduct a large-scale trial to assess the effectiveness of a new online shopping tool for those at high risk of heart disease and stroke.

The innovative tool will advise on grocery products to assist people with high blood pressure select lower-salt options that will reduce blood pressure and improve heart health. If proven effective, this digital health technology tool can be rolled out to large numbers of patients efficiently and at low cost.

“One in four Australian adults have high blood pressure – one of the biggest contributors to premature death from stroke or heart disease – and too much salt in the diet is one of the major culprits. While reducing salt intake is strongly recommended by treatment guidelines, individualised counselling and support methods are highly resource intensive and have limited effect,” A/Prof. Wu said.

“Excess dietary salt is consumed largely from commercial processed and packaged foods, so innovative strategies are urgently needed to help people with high blood pressure to choose lower salt options.”

A/Prof. Wu will lead with a team of researchers from The George Institute for Global Health.

Screening for those at high risk of heart disease and stroke  

Professor Louisa Jorm from UNSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health will receive $1.5 million to deliver cardiovascular risk screening to those at high risk of heart disease and stroke. The screening will use digital health data already available for millions of Australians and help those at risk of heart disease or stroke to take preventative action.

“We will develop new privacy-preserving methods for identifying people at high risk of heart disease and stroke, using mammograms and My Health Record. This will help those at risk to take action early to modify their lifestyles and use preventive medications, avoiding the devastating consequences of these diseases,” Prof. Jorm said.

“Using data captured in Australians’ My Health Records, we will develop and validate the world’s first cardiovascular risk screening algorithm that uses clinical text data and longitudinal event sequences. We will also use mammographic images for 54,000 women to develop and validate the world’s first mammography-derived cardiovascular risk screening algorithm.”

Prof. Jorm’s team includes researchers from UNSW Sydney, The George Institute for Global Health, the University of Sydney, the University of Auckland and the Australian National University.