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NSW awards top female researchers
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NSW awards top female researchers

Media release – 10 February 2022

Three of NSW’s leading female researchers have been recognised for outstanding achievements in tackling the state’s leading causes of death – heart disease and stroke.

An estimated 1.2 million people in NSW have cardiovascular disease, which includes heart, stroke and blood vessel disease, and it accounts for almost 40 deaths and more than 500 hospitalisations every day. 

Hosted by the Heart Foundation, the NSW Cardiovascular Research Network (CVRN) Showcase is supported by NSW Health and recognises the state’s most eminent health and medical researchers who are making significant contributions to the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.  

“The Cardiovascular Research Network is proud to recognise the hard work and dedication of our state’s researchers who work tirelessly to combat heart disease and stroke,” said Dr Kathy Chapman PhD, NSW General Manager at the Heart Foundation. 

“Cardiovascular disease exacts a heavy toll in Australia and NSW. It’s one of the most expensive diseases to treat and accounts for about one in four deaths in NSW alone.” 

This year, the Showcase highlighted the challenges facing people, communities and health systems in rural and remote areas who are impacted by significantly higher rates of heart disease. 

“People living in country NSW are almost twice as likely to be hospitalised, or die, due to cardiovascular disease compared with people living in city areas and these differences are largely preventable,” Dr Chapman said. 

“Cardiovascular research that benefits country Australia and takes into the account the disparities in health outcomes and access to services plays a critical part in reducing this gap.”

Acclaimed rural-practising cardiologist Dr John England gave a Keynote address on the disparities in health outcomes and care experienced by people in country NSW and the lack of culturally appropriate health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

The Hon Brad Hazzard MP, Minister for Health, awarded the Ministerial Award for Cardiovascular Research Excellence, and the Ministerial Awards for Rising Stars in Cardiovascular Research. 

Professor Kerry-Anne Rye from UNSW received the Ministerial Award for Research Excellence. This award recognises and celebrates the achievements of one of the state’s most gifted, senior researchers in cardiovascular disease. 

Professor Rye has made major contributions across the spectrum of cardiovascular research and is currently funded by two Heart Foundation Vanguard Grants. Her work has focused on an overarching goal to improve the understanding of the causes of heart disease and diabetes, and to develop novel strategies to treat both diseases. 

Professor Rye pioneered findings on the protective role of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) known as the “good” cholesterol in preventing inflammation in coronary arteries and continues to lead large scale research projects that aim to have a major, positive impact on people’s health and clinical practice. Professor Rye’s nomination also recognised her role in leading and encouraging young women to enter and remain in science.  

Dr Melody Ding from University of Sydney and Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina from UNSW won the Rising Star Awards. 

A leading researcher on the role of physical activity and environment in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, Dr Ding has published more than 170 peer-reviewed papers and recently led the acclaimed, first-ever global estimate of the economic cost of physical inactivity published in The Lancet. Dr Ding recently completed a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship. 

Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina is a talented biomedical researcher whose work focuses on regenerating tissue injury following a heart attack. She is currently funded by a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship. 

Blending areas of biology and engineering, Dr Rnjak-Kovacina’s work has focused on developing next generation, bioengineered cardiac patches, to help regenerate injured tissue and heart muscle damage caused by heart attack.

The NSW Cardiovascular Research Network comprises 14 organisations, more than 50 affiliated institutions and all NSW Local Health Districts. More than 350 researchers are members of the Network, including 90 Senior Researchers and more than 250 Early and Mid-Career Researchers. 

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