Research grants tackle new frontiers in stroke prevention

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The Heart Foundation has announced new funding for one-off cardiovascular research grants.

The 2018 grants were created to support researchers working on innovative, internationally significant research that showcases Australia as a leader in stroke prevention.

The new funding has been made available through a generous $5 million bequest. The donation has enabled the Heart Foundation to offer one of its largest single research grants, supporting projects to investigate the prevention of:

  • stroke in older Australians
  • stroke related to rheumatic heart disease (RHD)

This new funding is offered on top of the Heart Foundation’s annual research funding grants.

Taking the initiative on stroke prevention research

Stroke is a cardiovascular disease, related to the blood vessels and the heart. Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, affects 4.2 million Australians.

A stroke is caused by a blood clot or the build-up of plaque that interrupts blood flow to the brain. In 2016, an average of 23 Australians died from stroke each day. In the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, more than 84,000 Australians lost their lives to a stroke. (ABS)

Stroke is one of Australia’s leading causes of death and disability; more than 55,000 Australians experienced a stroke in 2017 and more than 475,000 stroke survivors live in Australia. (Stroke Foundation)

The new funding will support two stroke prevention research projects:

Prevention of stroke in older Australians

Led by Professor Sophia Zoungas from Monash University, this research explores the effectiveness of statins (medications often prescribed to lower blood cholesterol levels) in preventing fatal and non fatal stroke in people older than 70 years of age (the incidence of stroke doubles each decade after a person turns 55).

This study also aims to identify key stroke predictors and related changes in brain structure that occur with older age; this will assist with the diagnosis and prevention of stroke.

Testing vaccines to prevent rheumatic heart disease (RHD) related stroke

This research, led by Professor Michael Good from Griffith University, looks at the production of, and human testing of, newly developed vaccines to prevent streptococcal infection; one that prevents skin infection and one that prevents tonsillitis.

These infections are linked to the development of RHD, a condition where heart valves can become stretched or scarred due to inflammation.

This damage means that blood may flow backward through stretched valves that do not close properly, or blood flow becomes blocked due to scarred valves not opening properly. Heart surgery may be required to repair this damage.

People living with RHD can experience stroke after blood clots develop on damaged heart valves. These blood clots can break off and lead to a blockage in a blood vessel in the brain, which causes stroke.

Australia has one of the highest rates of RHD in the world; according to the Menzies School of Health Research, some of the highest rates of the condition can be found in Australia’s Indigenous communities.

If these vaccines are successful, they present an opportunity to significantly reduce the incidence of RHD related strokes.

A leader in heart and cardiovascular disease research

These grants expand on the Heart Foundation’s leading efforts in heart and cardiovascular research; since 1963, the National Heart Foundation has invested $580 million into heart health research.*

Read more about the organisation’s research programs


* This figure has been adjusted for inflation.