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HRI researchers have been awarded an outstanding four grants under the NSW Cardiovascular Research Capacity Program.

Three Early-Mid Career Researcher (EMCR) Grants were awarded to Associate Professor Rachael Cordina, Dr John O’Sullivan and Dr Anna Waterhouse, and a Senior Researcher Grant was awarded to Professor Ben Freedman, for a total of over $2.3 million in funding to advance research in the fight against cardiovascular disease – the world’s number one killer.

Early-Mid Career Researcher Grants

Associate Professor Rachael Cordina

Assoc Prof Cordina (pictured above), visiting scientist with the Clinical Research Group, won an EMCR Grant for her project “Brain injury and dysfunction in young adults with complex congenital heart disease: Defining the natural history and potentially modifiable contributors”.

Assoc Prof Cordina and the team have previously shown that young people living with single-ventricle congenital heart disease (Fontan-CHD) have high rates of neurological injury and neurocognitive impairment compared with less complex CHD and healthy controls, impacting social functioning and quality of life. A lack of knowledge of the underlying reasons for these neurological complications is preventing the implementation of targeted interventions. This project will study longitudinal trends in neurological outcomes to document, for the first time, the natural history and identify potentially modifiable factors in complex-CHD.

The $445,922 grant awarded for a three-year duration will help cover the costs for various research assistants – both junior and senior and support staff – to move the project forward.

The ultimate goal of this research is to optimise neurocognitive outcomes for patients living with complex-CHD and improve their quality of life,” says Assoc Prof Cordina.

Dr John O’Sullivan

Dr O’Sullivan, Clinical-Academic Cardiologist and leader of the Cardiometabolic Disease Group, won an EMCR Grant for his work on “Replenishing a vital molecule to rescue stiff heart failure”.

One in 10 people aged 40 and over will develop heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), the most common form of chronic cardiovascular disease for which no effective therapy exists. Dr O’Sullivan has recently discovered depletion of the molecule NAD occurs in the heart muscle tissue of patients with HFpEF, but not in other forms of heart failure, and that replenishing NAD rescues HFpEF preclinically. The next stage of his research will examine the mechanisms underpinning NAD-based rescue of HFpEF and begin translation to the clinic.

The $750,000 grant awarded for a three-year duration will help cover the costs for a postdoctoral researcher and consumables used in the research.

This work addresses the significant unmet need of effective treatment for HFpEF, and could potentially save thousands of lives,” says Dr O’Sullivan.

Dr Anna Waterhouse

Dr Waterhouse, leader of the Cardiovascular Medical Devices Group, won an EMCR Grant for her project “Slippery nano-coating to reduce medical device blood clots”.

Medical devices can cause blood clots (thrombosis) because foreign materials are reactive to blood. Current anti-thrombotic drugs can cause major bleeding that can often be fatal, so there is an urgent clinical need to reduce thrombosis and reduce anti-thrombotic drug use to reduce bleeding.

Dr Waterhouse pioneered the development of a liquid, slippery nano-coating for device materials that stops blood components sticking to material surfaces, reducing clot formation. The long-term goal of this research is to translate this coating to medical devices such as artificial hearts.

The $450,000 grant awarded for a three-year duration will help cover the costs for a postdoctoral researcher, consumables and equipment for the project.

This would reduce the propensity of these devices to cause thrombosis, and ultimately reduce the need for blood-thinning drugs, reduce the rates of major bleeding, improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs,” says Dr Waterhouse.

Senior Researcher Grant

Professor Ben Freedman

Prof Freedman, leader of the Heart Rhythm and Stroke Prevention Group, won a Senior Researcher Grant for his project “Preventing disabling stroke from unknown and undertreated atrial fibrillation”.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) causes one in three debilitating strokes, but AF often goes undiagnosed due to patients being asymptomatic or having only intermittent AF. Prof Freedman’s research goals are to: change national and international guidelines and health policy by completing the world’s largest, most significant randomised trial of AF screening in general practice (SAFER/SAFER-AUS), showing net clinical benefit in preventing stroke, morbidity and mortality; and to reduce anticoagulant (OAC) undertreatment of AF through the design and implementation of patient self-screening and GP/patient e-health tools and programs to increase OAC therapy prescription and persistence (AF-self-SMART).

The $750,000 grant awarded for a three-year duration will help cover staffing costs to manage the project.

The SAFER/SAFER-AUS study will facilitate rapid translation and implementation of AF screening in Australia, while the AF-self-SMART study will effectively reduce stroke related to AF-undertreatment by sustainably engaging both GPs and patients,” says Prof Freedman.

The NSW Cardiovascular Research Capacity Program funds high quality cardiovascular research in NSW in order to drive scientific discoveries, support the development of novel and innovative therapies, and improve health outcomes for patients with cardiovascular disease.

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