Two researchers share $5 million for ground-breaking stroke research

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Woman holding up research experiment.
The Heart Foundation today announced two Australian researchers will share a $5 million grant to develop ground-breaking research on the prevention of stroke.

The one-off grant was open to researchers who could demonstrate they were working on innovative, internationally significant research that would showcase Australia as a leader in stroke prevention.

The $5 million bequest will be shared by:

  • Professor Michael Good, from Griffith University, Queensland, to develop a stroke vaccine to prevent Streptococcal A infection which can result in rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and result in RHD-related stroke. This research could lead to a simple childhood vaccine to dramatically reduce RHD related strokes.
  • Professor Sophia Zoungas, Monash University, Melbourne, to investigate the effectiveness of statins on older stroke patients (aged 70-plus) and to identify key stroke predictors and neurovascular changes in the brain structure in older age.

The funding has been made available through a generous bequest. The grant is one of the largest single research grants offered by the Heart Foundation and is separate to the annual funding of research awards.

Heart Foundation CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly thanked the benefactor’s family for their generous support. He said the Heart Foundation’s objective was to choose research that would make a significant global contribution to the prevention and treatment of stroke in order to honour the bequest appropriately.

“Heart disease is Australia’s single biggest killer, stroke is Australia’s third biggest killer and thousands more stroke survivors are living with the debilitating effects of stroke,” Professor Kelly said.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, affects 4.2 million Australians. In 2017, an average of 22 Australians died from stroke each day. This is equivalent to one death from stroke every 65 minutes. In 10 years from 2008 to 2017, more than 83,000 Australians have lost their lives to a stroke.

Professor Kelly said Professor Zoungas’ research was important because it would address the uncertainty and ongoing debate about statins’ impact on cardiovascular health and disease, particularly in the elderly.

“It will provide urgently needed information on the prevention of stroke in older adults who have been traditionally under represented in clinical trials despite having a high risk of stroke.”

Professor Zoungas said the research encompassed three large programs of work, bringing together an Australian-led international consortium of researchers.

Professor Good received his first Heart Foundation grant for RHD research 25 years ago.

He and his research team have identified two candidate vaccines and with this grant they will be able to proceed to human clinical trials.

“This grant means a great deal. This will be the first time in the world that we will be able to test these vaccines on volunteers,” Professor Good said. He acknowledged his co-researchers Andrew Steer, Manisha Pandey, Joshua Osowicki, Simone Reynolds, Mehfuz Zaman and Michael Batzloff.

If successful, these vaccines have the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of RHD-related stroke. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders suffer the highest rates of RHD in the world.

Media enquiries: Suzanne McKenzie, Senior Media Advisor, Heart Foundation, M: 0434 691 461 T: 03 9321 2311 E: suzanne.mckenzie@heartfoundation.org.au