Associate Professor Mayooran Namasivayam Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

A/Prof Mayooran Namasivayam - Beating Heart Valve Disease

Driven by Curiosity

23 February 2021 - Updated 20 February 2023

He is a shining example of how research and clinical care combine to deliver improved outcomes for patients. He's a leading cardiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital and Faculty Member and Laboratory Head of our Heart Valve Disease and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Meet A/Prof Mayooran Namasivayam who’s determined to improve both the diagnosis and treatment of people with heart valve disease.

A/Prof Mayooran Namasivayam at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

What area of cardiology do you specialise in?

I specialise in valvular heart disease and cardiac imaging, with a special interest in interventional imaging for treatment of valvular heart disease. This is where advanced imaging is used to uncover the severity and mechanism of valve disease, determine the best method of repair or replacement, plan intervention and then provide imaging guidance for new types of minimally invasive procedures. Imaging is crucial to the success of these new procedures. It is amazing what we can do and see inside the heart nowadays, thanks to the rapid advancements in imaging technology such as real-time 3D image navigation.

What led to your interest in heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease is increasingly common and creates a significant burden on patients. It can cause breathlessness, fatigue and limit quality and quantity of life. We have good treatments, but identifying the disease accurately and working out best timing of treatment is currently quite challenging, particularly in aortic stenosis. Therefore, plenty of people get underdiagnosed and undertreated, or vice versa.

We need to do better. So my motivation comes from a clinical side, knowing that we must do better to diagnose and treat these patients but it also links in with my research interests in cardiac physiology, fluid dynamics, cardiac imaging and machine learning.

How do you think heart valve disease will be managed differently in the future?

Our hope is that we can do better on several fronts. Firstly, we will get better at understanding disease course and diagnosing patients early in the trajectory, before permanent heart damage is done.

Secondly, we will get better at timing treatment and delivering treatment. We are already seeing this play out here at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and St. Vincent’s with new developments in valve disease occurring on a regular basis, and we are proud to play a role in helping to drive this innovation in this important area.

What research are you currently conducting?

My research is trying to understand how to better diagnose and treat aortic stenosis using my background and training in cardiac imaging, cardiac physiology and advanced data analytics. Aortic stenosis is one of the most common and serious valve disease problems. Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening. Although some people have aortic stenosis because of a congenital heart defect, this condition more commonly develops during ageing as calcium or scarring damages the valve and restricts the amount of blood flowing through.

Do you have any upcoming papers?

Building on my work studying aortic stenosis diagnosis and prognosis, I am working on a new paper that reports on the use of artificial intelligence and its role and utility in clinical risk prediction for patients with aortic stenosis.

Congratulations on taking home the UNSW 2022 Young Alumni Award! What did it mean to you?

This award means a lot to me because UNSW has been such a big part of my journey for such a long time – two undergraduate degrees and my PhD as well. To be recognised as an Alumni and to be rewarded for my work really is very special.

A Prof Mayooran UNSW Young Alumni Award

What do you hope to achieve in your role as Faculty here at the Institute?

One of the things I love the most about my work is seeing the reward of a patient’s journey where they get better…to be part of the team that helps them get through that difficult time in their life and provide them with a better quantity and quality of life is a great feeling.

I hope to make an impact on our understanding of valvular heart disease in a way that improves our ability to diagnose and treat it. I also hope to train and mentor the next generation of clinician scientists in the same way that I was fortunate to be trained at the Institute.

When did you first become interested in a career in medicine?

I have always been interested in science since I was young and I always wanted to use that interest in a way that makes a positive difference in the community. Being a doctor allows me to do that on a direct level, through the patients I look after, and running a research lab allows me to do that on a wider level, by contributing to society through improved understanding which translates to improved future care.

Where did you study medicine?

I graduated medical school from the University of New South Wales. During my study I also spent a year at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute which was my first introduction to the incredible world of heart research. My time being involved with the Institute as a medical student really instilled a passion for cardiology, a specialty that seemed to combine my interest in science, physics, and patient care together perfectly. Cardiology also struck me as a specialty where you could make a big difference to very sick patients. I completed my cardiology training at St Vincent’s Hospital and completed my PhD in cardiovascular physiology at the Institute.

To better train myself in this area and so that I could bring something unique back to St Vincent’s Hospital, I worked for two years at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University in Boston where I did my fellowship in advanced echocardiography. I learnt all about the different types of new valve repairs and implants, and how to provide imaging workup and guidance for these state-of-the-art approaches. Being exposed to these cutting-edge procedures and learning to provide image navigation using the latest techniques and technology was a fantastic experience.

What differences did you notice between American medical research institutes compared to Australian?

In the US, many of the major hospitals are considered an academic institution. Ultimate governance of the hospital is normally held by a university and so you are considered a teacher and a researcher as well as a doctor on the floor.

A/Prof Mayooran Namasivayam with Professor Jason Kovacic

This is not always the case in Australia, although St Vincent’s Hospital and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s affiliation is unique and much closer to the system in the US. We have a lot of collaboration between the Hospital and the Institute here in Darlinghurst as well as with the University of New South Wales. It is more of an academic campus, with a hospital situated within a broader research precinct.

Many members of the Cardiology Department also work at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and so laboratory work can typically transition to improvements in patient care very quickly. These changes have the power to be internationally applied and can therefore improve patient outcomes around the world.

I truly believe that our role as cardiovascular researchers is intrinsic to our job as clinical cardiologists - and vice versa.

Who have been your mentors?

There are so many people at the hospital and at the Institute who have acted as mentors to me over the years. All of them lead a very strong example of how you can be a very good clinician but also maintain a commitment to teaching and training the next generation whilst also contributing to international research. Specifically, I have to mention Emeritus Professor Michael O’Rourke, Professor Michael Feneley and Professor Chris Hayward as key research mentors who I have had the pleasure of working with since I was a medical student.

What's your advice for those that are considering a career in science?

Find something that you are truly passionate about. I think people sometimes get involved in research because they think it's important from a career perspective but ultimately if you're not passionate about what you're doing then you won't enjoy it and you won’t be good at it.

Secondly, be driven by your curiosity and solving a problem, when science is directed towards an unmet need it becomes very powerful.

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