Professor Diane Fatkin in our laboratory

SCAD and Dilated Cardiomyopathy Funding Success

NSW Government Cardiovascular Senior and Early-Mid Career Researcher Grants success for Institute scientists

21 February 2024

The Institute’s researchers have been collectively awarded $1.2 million from the NSW Government’s Cardiovascular Research Capacity Program.

Professor Diane Fatkin was awarded $750,000 to investigate the health benefits of exercise and how it might protect those who have a genetic risk of developing the heart disease DCM. Her grant will also explore potential new treatments for the heart muscle disease – which affects one in 250 people and is a major cause of heart failure.

Associate Professor Eleni Giannoulatou aims to use computational biology techniques to identify more genetic risk factors associated with SCAD. It’s hoped her $450,000 grant will provide more insights into the disease mechanism and potential targeted treatment, while also delivering a better risk prediction for at-risk individuals.

DCM grant

Professor Fatkin says: “Dilated cardiomyopathy can strike people of any age and new ways to treat this disorder are urgently required. This is an enormous challenge for patients with genetic causes of DCM, since interventions to eliminate the inevitable effects of underlying gene mutations have not been possible.”

Current therapies for DCM focus on symptom relief in affected patients, utilising a one-size-fits-all approach of drugs, devices, and heart transplantation. This fails to consider the myriad of other factors that contribute to cardiac dysfunction in individual patients, including genetic background, co-morbidities and lifestyle.

Professor Fatkin and her team will focus on identifying the factors that accelerate or protect against disease progression, including having the condition atrial fibrillation, alcohol consumption and the role exercise plays.

Prof Fatkin adds:

“We really don’t know what role exercise plays in preventing heart disease in families that have DCM. If we determine this, we will be able to give people the power to influence their own health outcomes and hopefully prevent more people from developing heart failure.”

They will utilise the Institute’s zebrafish for this project to study the effects of exercise and early administration of heart failure drugs.

SCAD Grant

There are no current ways to predict who is at risk of developing SCAD heart attacks, which mostly affect otherwise healthy women under the age of 50.

A/Prof Eleni Giannoulatou

Associate Professor Giannoulatou says whilst tailored treatments to individual patients are now available for many diseases with a genetic component (such as cancer), precision genomic medicine is not providing families with SCAD the same opportunities.

A/Prof Giannoulatou says: “I will apply computational approaches to genomic dataset to best interpret a SCAD patient’s genetic profile in the context of clinical information, hence facilitating personalised medicine. By identifying more genetic risk factors that predispose to SCAD through a large genome-wide association study, we will provide more insights into the disease mechanism and potential targeted treatment, while also delivering a better risk prediction for at-risk individuals.

”Our approach is novel as we will be using correlated phenotypes such as migraine, hypertension and stroke to increase our power of discovery.”

It is hoped the project will also provide insights into the biology behind the disease mechanism, targeted treatment and drug targets, leading to better health and socioeconomic outcomes for SCAD patients and their families.

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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.

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