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Q&A with Professor Susan Davis



Researcher Q&A


Q&A with Professor Susan Davis

Professor Susan Davis is the recipient of a Heart Foundation 2022 Vanguard Grant at Monash University. She is head of the Monash University Women’s Health Research Program, as well as a consulting endocrinologist. Her current research is exploring the role testosterone plays in the heart health of postmenopausal women.

What are you currently researching?

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) occurs when the left chamber of the heart does not completely fill with blood due to a lack of stretch in the heart muscle. The heart muscle is still able to pump well, however the amount of blood pumped out is less than what your body needs. HFpEF is more common in women and the risk increases after 55 years of age. This is when testosterone levels are at their lowest in women. Testosterone is known as a male sex hormone, but it is also produced by females in smaller amounts. Currently there is no treatment to prevent the progression of HFpEF. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that testosterone therapy may protect postmenopausal women against HFpEF and related symptoms. To test this, we will conduct a trial using testosterone therapy in postmenopausal women with early heart failure, to determine the effects on their ability to exercise, their heart structure and function, and their quality of life.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

Heart disease has largely been considered an issue for men, not women. But heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) is increasing, mostly in women. While HFpEF may not cause any symptoms initially, many women will develop symptoms over time. Currently there is no medication or therapy to prevent this progression. Our research, together with that of others, provides initial evidence that low testosterone levels in postmenopausal women have a role in the development of HFpEF. This trial will determine whether a testosterone cream, approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for the treatment of postmenopausal women, improves heart function and the ability to exercise in women with early HFpEF. Positive findings would justify a larger and longer-term study. This could reduce the impact of HFpEF and minimise future health care costs.

What motivated you to do your research?

Over the last two decades, my research has built our understanding of the role of testosterone in women. My team has shown testosterone causes blood vessels to expand and blood flow to increase. We have shown that testosterone levels in women drop with age and are at their lowest in their early 60s. Our work suggests that low testosterone may negatively impact heart function. This study is the next step to understanding the importance of testosterone for healthy heart function in women.

Are there any achievements or discoveries from the past year you can share with us?

This year we reported that in women aged 70 years, low testosterone levels were associated with double the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This work, published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity Journal, highlighted the importance of testosterone in older women in relation to heart health. This challenges the belief that testosterone has negative effects on the heart health of older women. Our findings suggest that low testosterone levels actually increase the risk of heart disease.

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

We believe that our research will uncover the impact of testosterone on heart function in women. This research would not be possible without support from the Heart Foundation. The research team includes talented mid-career researchers, and the funding will make a significant contribution to their career progression by supporting the important work that they are doing.

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Researchers in Australia make major contributions to health knowledge that is shared throughout the world, with enormous determination and dedication. Supporting the Heart Foundation enables researchers to explore the causes, consequences and treatment of heart disease. It also supports and builds our research community, including young researchers who will be tomorrow's leaders. Heart Foundation donors are investing in the health of the community both today and into the future. As a researcher, I thank donors and supporters of the Heart Foundation for enabling me to lead what I believe is an important research study and to mentor a team of talented young researchers.

Last updated01 August 2023