Diverse research to tackle heart disease

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Research tackling high smoking rates and blood pressure in Indigenous communities and heart failure in the elderly are among eight new projects being funded by the Heart Foundation.

Three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards have been awarded to researchers at the universities of Newcastle and Queensland and the Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane.

Five Health Professional Scholarships have also been awarded to investigate:

  • pacemaker technologies
  • how the heart ages and what predisposes the elderly to heart failure
  • ways to prevent high blood glucose and complications associated with the anti-inflammatory drug prednisolone
  • how to support families who are coping with the death of a young person from an unexpected cardiac arrest and
  • which patients are at risk of stroke and developing blood clots after a transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

The National Heart Foundation’s General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, said the research would add to our understanding of the most effective way to prevent and treat heart disease, and reduce its impact on families and communities.

“It is part of the Heart Foundation’s pledge to invest $50 million in 2018-2020 for research that contributes to the health and quality of life of people who are at risk of, or are already living with, heart disease,” Mr Stavreski said.

He said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Awards were an important part of the Heart Foundation’s ongoing commitment to reducing the impact of heart disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Heart disease is the biggest single killer of Indigenous Australians. Nationally, Indigenous Australians are admitted to hospital with heart conditions 2.6 times more often that other Australians and are three times more likely to have a heart attack than other Australians,” he said.

University of Newcastle researcher, Dr Michelle Bovill, will investigate strategies to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women quit smoking during pregnancy.

Dr Bovill said Aboriginal women were three times more likely to smoke in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy than non-Aboriginal women. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to low-birth weight babies and possible long-term chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Dr Bovill will investigate the effectiveness of natural, non-pharmaceutical strategies. Possible solutions could include yoga, exercise, phone apps, text message support or group-based therapy but Dr Bovill said she had no preconceptions about what might work.

“We are going to these communities to ask them what they would like to try,” she said.

“Reducing smoking is a health priority for Indigenous communities, women are trying to quit during pregnancy, but they don’t know how to do it and community leaders are saying they don’t know what they should be offering.”

Dr Bovill will begin her trial in communities around the Newcastle, Nowra and Tamworth regions and eventually hopes to use her findings to trial programs in other states.

At the University of Queensland, researchers will investigate whether a mobile app and web portal can be used to effectively monitor, manage and help reduce high blood pressure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

The third Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award will fund a study that aims to make hospital care more culturally appropriate for Indigenous cardiac patients by consulting their families.