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Driven by Curiosity

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 an innovative scientist at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
And now he’s just been named as the Institute’s newest Faculty member.
Meet Dr Mayooran Namasivayam!

Congratulations on your appointment to Faculty at the Institute! What does this announcement mean to you? What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

It is a tremendous honour for me to be appointed as a Faculty Member of the Institute. I am proud to join an amazing team and be part of the future of our mission to improve the cardiovascular health of Australians and indeed all patients with cardiovascular disease around the world. 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. 

Where did you study medicine and when did you first become interested in cardiology?

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 into 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.

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.

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. I look forward to bringing that experience here to our campus. 

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.

Earlier this year I published a paper which outlines a new approach to diagnosis of aortic stenosis, based on a longitudinal study of over 2000 patients (Namasivayam et al. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 2020;75:1758-69).  The new approach allows us to solve complex cases of aortic stenosis where diagnosis of severity is challenging. This is a significant development because aortic stenosis can lead to morbidity and mortality and is an increasingly common disease around the world in the setting of ageing populations. Being able to improve diagnose of aortic stenosis will help clinicians make more informed decisions about patient management.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Did you always want to be a doctor and work in science?

Yes.  My siblings also studied science or medicine at university and I think our career choices were very influenced by our upbringing. Curiosity was always encouraged at home when we were kids, as was the need to do something of value for the community. I think as a family we all find science interesting and inspiring and we enjoy using that passion to do something of value to others, whether that be on a small scale in our local community or on a large scale through international research. We were also always encouraged to read widely when we were young. I remember I read a book in high school called ‘On Giants’ Shoulders,’ and this book is still a source of inspiration for me, the story of 12 of history’s greatest scientists who pushed hard to satisfy their curiosity – and more importantly made a difference to the world around them by finding solutions to big problems. 

Read more about Dr Namasivayam