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Q&A with Dr Rachel Climie
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Q&A with Dr Rachel Climie

Vascular ageing and cardiovascular disease in high-risk populations

Dr Rachel Climie is a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. Dr Climie’s research focuses on preventing cardiovascular disease by identifying damage to blood vessels in high risk populations. Damage to blood vessels over time is known as vascular ageing. Vascular ageing can be detected before the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease appear. Dr Climie’s research focuses on preventing premature vascular ageing, which can start as early as childhood, through healthy lifestyle behaviours. 

What are you currently researching?

My research is focused on vascular ageing; how the blood vessels age as we age. Early vascular ageing is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and premature death. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease begin to develop in childhood and are related to  poor outcomes in adulthood. This is particularly concerning given that 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese and around 75% of children are not meeting physical activity recommendations. Overweight and obesity, and physical inactivity are cardiovascular disease risk factors. This means it is likely that a high proportion of children will have early vascular ageing. 

Over the last 2 years, I have been investigating vascular ageing across the life course. I have been working to understand normal versus abnormal vascular ageing in young people.  I have also been investigating the consequences of early vascular ageing in people with chronic disease (including diabetes and cancer). 

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

Early vascular ageing leads to damage in the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes which can appear before people develop any signs or symptoms of a disease. Understanding the risk factors for premature vascular ageing might help find ways to minimise damage to blood vessels and organs. This will help reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease globally. 

What motivated you to do your research?

I have always been very motivated to make a significant, positive impact on the lives of others.  A career in research means that I can study ways to encourage people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes following a heart healthy eating pattern and being physically active.  This is important for people to avoid early vascular ageing and damage to organs, disease and premature death.

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

In the past year, I have set up the Youth Vascular Consortium. The Youth Vascular Consortium is a world-first collaboration established to investigate vascular ageing in young people. It will collect data related to the measurement of vascular ageing in children, adolescents, and young adults (aged 5 to 40 years). Currently, over 40 research groups worldwide are involved, and we have data from more than 20,000 people. Given the huge amount of data being collated, the Consortium will be a valuable resource for investigating the risk factors of cardiovascular disease in early life. This may inform early prevention strategies. The research data will be available for additional studies in the future, with the potential to encourage international collaborations.

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

My Heart Foundation funding allows me to pursue my research career, grow my independence, strengthen my research profile internationally and establish my research program. I would not be able to do the research I do without the support of the Heart Foundation! 

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Early vascular ageing is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. I am very passionate about finding ways to prevent early vascular ageing to minimise the impact of cardiovascular disease on Australian lives. I am extremely grateful to the Heart Foundation donors for supporting my medical research. You have given me the opportunity to work in an area which will (hopefully) make a significance difference to the lives of many. Thank you!

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