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Heart Foundation invests $13.9 million into Australia’s biggest killer – heart disease
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Heart Foundation invests $13.9 million into Australia’s biggest killer – heart disease

Media release - 18 October 2021

Creating new blood vessels made from silk to replace diseased arteries and understanding how our gut microbes can protect us against heart attacks are among 72 new research projects that the Heart Foundation has agreed to fund.

The Heart Foundation today announced $13.9 million for Australian research investigating the causes, prevention, and treatment of heart disease, stroke and related conditions.  

Heart Foundation interim CEO, Professor Garry Jennings, congratulated this year’s successful researchers.
Professor Jennings said: “We fund research that has the greatest potential to make a significant impact on heart health in Australia.

“Coronary heart disease is still Australia’s single biggest killer, despite many improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in the past 60 years.”

Associate Professor Francine Marques, Monash University, is one of 14 researchers to receive a Future Leader Fellowship.

Associate Professor Marques’ early research found that diets high in fibre can lower blood pressure – a finding that could lead to new blood pressure-lowering medications.

“Our early work suggests this phenomenon involves gut microbes. While our bodies are incapable of digesting fibre, they feed the community of ‘good’ gut microbes. They are the new players in heart health.”

Associate Professor Steven Wise, University of Sydney, will use his Future Leader Fellowship to find a way of using silk to replace plastic-based synthetic arteries that are often used in heart by-pass operations.

Professor Wise said his early research found that silk can be engineered to outperform these plastic-based options.  

“With no new materials reaching clinical practice for more than six decades, new alternatives are urgently needed. We will determine the best combination of physical and biological properties leading to the most effective small diameter graft.”

Other researchers will investigate:

  • the genes that regulate cholesterol and other blood fats to understand how they contribute to heart disease and stroke
  • childhood physical inactivity and overweight/obesity to prevent heart disease later on in life
  • therapies to avoid brain and kidney injury arising from sepsis (a life-threatening reaction to infection) after heart surgery
  • new vaccines to prevent rheumatic heart disease, which has taken a toll on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • the development of a blood test to check heart health for people with diabetes
  • new approaches to improve cardiac arrest survival rates

The funding round is in addition to the $8 million strategic research grants that were awarded to eight researchers in June. The Heart Foundation is investing $50 million in heart-related research over three years (2021-2023).

Key Statistics
In this round, the Heart Foundation has funded: 

  • 14 Future Leader Fellowships for up to four years
  • 31 Vanguard grants
  • 9 Postdoctoral Fellowship for two years
  • 8 PhD Scholarships for up to three years and
  • 2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards

The Heart Foundation is pleased to announce awards for the year’s most innovative and outstanding applications:

Shirley E Freeman Innovation Award This new award honors Shirley E Freeman AM (1924 - 2014) who was the first woman to receive research funding from the Heart Foundation in 1960. She received a £1250 grant-in-aid. The recipient receives an additional $20,000.
  • Dr Adam Nelson, Monash University
The Heart Foundation Excellence Award - PhD Scholarship
  • Dr Yara-Natalie Abo, Murdoch Children's Research Institute
Ross Hohnen Innovation Award - Vanguard grant
  • Professor Corneel Vandelanotte, Central Queensland University
Paul Korner Innovation Award - Future Leader Fellowship
  • Dr Li Jiawen, University of Adelaide
  • Dr Yugeesh Lankadeva, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
 A full list of 2021 awards can be found here.

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