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Big funding and award wins to further future research at the Institute

The Institute’s array of talent has been recognised with grants, acknowledgments and accolades

2 July 2021

It’s been an incredibly busy and successful two weeks for Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s scientists with an array of awards, fellowships, funding, and appointments.

The announcements will allow our researchers to drive forward their life-saving work in the fields of heart transplant, congenital heart disease, atherosclerosis, and many more. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Medical Research Future Funding

MRFF Success - Prof Bob Graham, Prof Peter Macdonald, Prof Sally Dunwoodie, Prof Richard Harvey

Professors Bob Graham, Andrew Jabbour, Peter Macdonald and Dr Kavitha Muthiah are all part of the successful Stem Cell Therapies Mission Grant. The five-year project led by Associate Professor James Chong at the University of Sydney was awarded $4.9 million for induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes: a new therapy for no-option end-stage heart failure. The outcome of this research could one day provide a "cure" for chronic heart failure preventing lost quality of life, premature death, costly drug treatments, and hospital readmissions.

Professor Richard Harvey was also part of a second successful Stem Cell Therapies Mission Grant, led by Associate Professor Enzo Porrello at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. This is a two-year project and follows on from work developing bioengineered heart tissue from pluripotent stem cells. The team will now test whether this technology can treat congenital heart disease, the leading cause of Australian infant deaths.

The critical proof-of-concept studies will determine if bioengineered heart tissue can be used for congenital heart repair and pave the way for further commercial development of this technology and future clinical trials.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also announced the awarding of the $6 million Genomics Health Futures Mission grant to the Australian Functional Genomics Network (AFGN), which is co-chaired by Professor Sally Dunwoodie. Read more about the Grant and what AFGN hopes to achieve.

Funding News

Congratulations Dr Nikki Bart | Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Dr Nikki Bart has been awarded the Pfizer Cardiac Transthyretin Amyloid Fellowship. Dr Bart will be setting up a one-stop shop at the Institute to investigate amyloidosis. This is a rare disease that occurs when an abnormal protein called amyloid builds up. It can affect the kidneys, the nervous system, and the heart and can cause heart failure.

Through a collaboration with St Vincent’s, Dr Bart and her new fellow, the first member of her team, will be looking at a genetic first approach to the treatment of amyloid heart disease.

More Funding Success! Dr Renjing Liu, Prof Diane Fatkin, Dr Charles Cox | Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Dr Renjing Liu and Professor Diane Fatkin have both been awarded funding from The Baxter Charitable Foundation. The award will allow Dr Liu to expand her work into atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries and is a major cause of death worldwide. Dr Liu will use the funds to focus on a new gene that prevents blood vessel cells from contributing to atherosclerosis development and on a new drug that is showing promise in protecting blood vessels from atherosclerosis. 

Professor Fatkin's funding will allow for further analysis of atrial fibrillation (AF), which is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and frequently leads to heart failure, stroke, and premature death. There is increasing evidence that a person’s genetic makeup is an important determinant of AF risk. Discovering what these genetic factors are is a priority and may reveal new targets for disease treatment and prevention.  Professor Fatkin will develop a custom sequencing panel that will enable her team, for the first time, to undertake low-cost, effective screening of cardiomyopathy genes in patients with AF. This work will expand knowledge about the causes of AF and has enormous potential future applications for genetic testing of patients in research and clinical settings.

Dr Charles Cox was also successful in obtaining a grant from the Medical Advances Without Animals Trust. He will use the funds to continue work on an ion channel expressed in the mosquito stages of the malarial parasite lifecycle. It is hoped his studies will help us understand its role in plasmodium cell biology and unearth novel anti-malarial strategies.

Appointments

Dr Nana Sunn - Board Member ASMI - Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Dr Nana Sunn has been elected to the board of the Australian Society of Molecular Imaging (ASMI). ASMI is the peak society for advances in multidisciplinary imaging practices across medical and scientific fields.

Dr Sunn received the greatest number of votes in the election and will serve on the ASMI board for the next two years, and endeavour to advance the cause of preclinical imaging.

Awards and Scholarships

Dr Celine Santiago, Dr Monique Bax and Dr Jeanette Villanueva have all been awarded the NSW Cardiovascular Research Network Professional Development Award.

Award winners - Monique Bax, Jeanette Villanueva, Celine Santiago

Diane Fatkin has also been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. If COVID-19 travel restrictions allow, she hopes to undertake a sabbatical study visit to the Seidman Laboratory at Harvard Medical School in Boston to gain experience in cutting-edge techniques for studying heart function, which will provide insights into causes of genetic heart disease.

“I hope to be able to spend time at Harvard Medical School to further my research on dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and can’t pump blood effectively,” Professor Fatkin says.

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For all media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:

Julia Timms
Head, Media & Communications 
j.timms@victorchang.edu.au
0457 517 355

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