Female scientist

Star Scientist of the Month- Dr Jianxin Wu

“I’m really proud to be part of the team doing such important work. To play a role in these potentially lifesaving treatments for heart attacks, and heart transplants, is very fulfilling”

14 January 2022

This month’s Star Scientist, Dr Jianxin Wu, is part of the team responsible for one of the biggest heart breakthroughs in years. The senior preclinical scientist is playing an important role in moving the work from the laboratory to saving human lives.

Dr Jianxin Wu wearing face mask in laboratory

It’s been 16 years since this month’s Star Scientist Dr Jianxin Wu started at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

After a decade and a half working for the Institute’s Professor Bob Graham, Dr Wu is now with Professor Peter MacDonald’s laboratory. He’s part of a team – comprised of scientists from the Institute and the University of Queensland – that has discovered a drug it’s hoped can prevent damage caused by a heart attack and transform heart transplantation – from a very unlikely source.

“You usually think of spider venom as something that can kill – especially when it comes to funnel web spiders - so it’s incredible to think we may be able to use their venom to actually save lives.

“For decades, no one has been able to develop a drug that can stop the death signal in heart cells – that’s why heart disease is still the world’s biggest killer. But our work uses the Hi1a peptide from spider venom to look at how helpful it is after a heart attack.

“This research has been going on for many years, and I’ve just been involved for a year, but it’s so interesting to see the work up close.

“I am so happy to be able to help them in the early testing, that will hopefully soon lead to saving human lives,” he says.

Part of the team

Professor Peter Macdonald says he feels very fortunate that Dr Wu has joined his laboratory.

“Jianxin works really hard and is highly skilled. What he does at the Institute builds our knowledge of the human heart and how best to preserve the donor heart for transplantation.

“It’s such intricate work that takes a steady hand and lots of patience and attention to detail. I feel lucky to have someone with his extensive experience, and he’s someone other scientists can learn from.

“All the exciting inroads we are making in repairing the heart after a heart attack and extending the viability of a donor heart prior to transplantation rely not only on the main researchers and doctors but all the scientists, like Jianxin, working behind the scenes to help find the answers,” says Professor Macdonald.

But Dr Wu says the fortune is on his side.

“I was so lucky that Peter was happy for me to join his lab. He’s such a famous cardiologist and the work being done in his laboratory, and in Queensland, is not happening anywhere else in the world so it is incredible to be part of it.

Dr Wu says it won’t be long before humans will directly benefit from the hard work being done.

“When there are great results found in a study – like there has been in the Hi1a research – it can move to human trials much faster than usual. That means humans are going to benefit pretty quickly and lives will be saved too.

“What Peter is doing means when people have a heart attack there will be less damage. And more patients will also be able to have heart transplants too because making them viable for longer opens up a whole lot more people being able to access them,” Dr Wu says.

“We’ve done a pilot study here and don’t have the final results, but it is looking extremely promising.”

Dr Jianxin Wu hospital catheter

Tough job, challenging work

Dr Wu says while it is exciting to get such good results, the work can be very stressful and a real challenge.

“It’s not an easy job at all – and to do a good job is not simple. There is a lot of pressure to get very accurate results. You need to have consistent surgeries, that’s the hardest part, because even a slight deviation can change the results and the outcome of the work.

“I do have to look at the bigger picture and think about what the work will achieve in the long run - saving human lives and helping those that are sick. That’s really rewarding and is what keeps me going when things are difficult.

Time away from the office

Dr Wu enjoys the time he spends with family away from the office.

“I do often work on weekends so when I’m at home there’s lots to catch up on – gardening and housework.

“In my downtime, I like watching television and movies and I like to travel, but that hasn’t been possible for a long time. I’d like to get back and see my family in China as soon as I can.

“Otherwise, I like to spend time with my family at home, or at a picnic, or maybe I’ll head to the beach to watch my daughter surf,” Dr Wu says.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years