Gary’s family

Philanthropic donation to drive research into coronary heart disease

Funding boost from the Bourne Foundation will drive research into atherosclerosis

4 August 2021

When the Smith family lost much-loved family member Gary, they had no idea coronary heart disease was Australia’s biggest killer or that it could strike at any age.

Gary Smith was just 33 years old when he passed away in 2017 from heart disease. He cycled every day and ran 20 km at the weekends. No-one saw his death coming.

“I thought heart disease just affected people who were older and unhealthy, not people like my brother. I really had no idea about coronary heart disease, just how common it was, or the simple measures we could take to monitor heart health, until it was too late” says Gary’s sister Carley.

“If Gary had been aware he had coronary heart disease, he might still be here today. That is why we want to find out more about this disease which is Australia’s single biggest killer.”

IT worker Gary had been complaining of headaches and double vision for a few months before his death, but he and his family had no idea he was harbouring a deadly killer. It was only discovered later he had atherosclerosis, a disease that is at epidemic levels across the world and the #1 cause of heart attacks.

Gary’s family is now determined to stop other families from going through heartache and has joined forces with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the Bourne Foundation to accelerate research into coronary heart disease.

The Bourne Foundation has generously donated $300,000 into a world-first research project into the causes of atherosclerosis, which leads to the arteries narrowing down or even blocking off due to a build-up of plaque.

Professor Jason Kovacic, who is leading the research at the Institute, said: “There are literally hundreds of genes related to coronary artery disease and heart attack. But incredibly until very recently, very little was known about how these genes interact and what genes we should be focusing on.

“We intend to change that and deliver new treatments that we hope will ultimately save lives in the future.”

The Bourne Foundation’s funding will allow Professor Kovacic’s team to focus on a gene called PHACTR1.

It’s been identified as a critical gene for causing vascular disease but next to nothing is known about how PHACTR1 causes atherosclerosis and heart attack. The Institute’s team will undertake state-of-the-art studies at the cellular level to understand what happens when cellular levels of the PHACTR1 gene are reduced.

Professor Kovacic adds: “We already know that coronary heart disease and heart attack are linked to lower levels of PHACTR1 in cells, so understanding exactly what happens when PHACTR1 levels are reduced is a key step to understanding how this gene causes these diseases.”

Sid Catlin, Managing Director of the Bourne Foundation, says: “The statistics around atherosclerosis and heart attacks, especially in our younger generation, are of great concern and warrant support as a matter of urgency. When the Bourne Foundation saw the research being undertaken in heart disease, we were immediately impressed and did not hesitate to fund Professor Kovacic and his team at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

“The foundation has seen the devastation this disease can cause and is delighted to support Carley’s family in their quest to help find a cure for coronary heart disease, thereby saving the lives of loved ones around the world. I look forward to Professor Kovacic and his team discovering answers to the impact of PHACTR1.”

Carley says she is thankful that research is beginning to unlock the mysteries of coronary heart disease. “We miss our brother every single day. We just can’t believe that with minimal warning a much-loved sibling, son and uncle was taken from us far too early. This research will not bring our brother back, but it would be an inspiring legacy if his passing could help save the lives of others.”

“We really hope that one day we will have treatments and cures out there that started with this incredible work at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and are so thankful that the Bourne Foundation saw the promise and provided such generous funding.”

The Bourne Foundation was established in 2011 by the late Henry Arthur Bourne, with the main purpose of funding research into various terminal illnesses.

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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