Our mission is to identify unmet needs in interventional cardiology practice
Our research involves developing new strategies for treating patients with blocked arteries. This means finding treatments that facilitate the growth of new blood vessels to areas affected by vascular disease and bioengineering synthetic arteries and stents for more effective treatment of coronary heart disease.
What impact will this research have?
Few research organisations in Australia are working on improved medical devices, with the aim of moving the technology from the laboratory to the clinic. By using new tissue engineering methods, our group seeks to develop new devices to improve the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Simultaneously we aim to better understand the biological processes controlling new blood vessel growth as an additional means to improve patient outcomes.
Current projects and goals
The Translational Research and Bioengineering Group undertakes both device bioengineering and basic vascular biology projects, synergistically working towards better interventions for patients with cardiovascular disease.
The primary non-surgical intervention for coronary heart disease is the deployment of a stent, a small scaffold which can prop open diseased arteries from the inside by being inserted through a remote blood vessel and guided to the heart. Current metal stents are not tolerated well by the body. Narrowing or blocking of the stented blood vessel is high, occurring in as many as half of all patients. This can cause a relapse of chest pain and other symptoms, and in extreme cases can be fatal. ‘Drug eluting’ stents were made to address this, secreting drugs to lower the risk of re-narrowing, but the trade-off is a higher risk of heart attack due to blood clots forming in the stent. Our new stent coating technology uses a biomimicry approach, fooling the body so that it integrates with the foreign stent. Stents that are more compatible with the body should lead to better outcomes for cardiac patients, and less subsequent complications.
Synthetic elastin conduits – new blood vessel replacements
There are currently no effective synthetic conduits for small diameter vascular grafting such as coronary artery bypass surgery, despite more than 17,000 of these life-saving procedures being performed in Australia each year. Using synthetic human elastin, a lab-derived mimic of human elastin (the dominant protein in large blood vessels), we have bioengineered functional blood vessel replacements. Current prototype conduits have demonstrated mechanical properties closely matched to human arteries, combined with favourable vascular cell interactions and blood compatibility. NHMRC funding is facilitating comprehensive pre-clinical testing of these synthetic vessels. Ultimately these blood vessel substitutes stand to improve clinical outcomes for many patients with cardiovascular disease.
Unravelling the link between diabetes and heart disease
More than 80 per cent of people with diabetes die from heart and vascular disease, including heart attack, peripheral artery disease and stroke. Diabetics are also up to six times more likely to suffer from atherosclerosis than people without diabetes. The disease is characterised in part by the development of an impaired endothelium, the critically important layer of cells that lines the blood vessel walls and serves to protect blood vessels from injury and disease. In breakthrough research, our group has shown for the first time that there is a specific molecular mechanism linking diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We found that the high sugar levels in diabetes directly interfered with the regulation of a protein called Thioredoxin Interacting Protein, or TXNIP, one of the most glucose-sensitive genes in the entire human genome. By preventing high glucose-mediated interference with TXNIP, we were able to strikingly rescue the endothelial cell dysfunction of diabetes, with important implications for the development of new, more effective therapies.