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NHMRC Investigator Grant Funding Success

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Awarded $10 million by NHMRC to accelerate new research and treatments into heart disease

14 September 2021

Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have been awarded almost $10 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to fight heart disease.

The funds will be used to drive genetic and epigenomics research led by Professor Sally Dunwoodie and Dr Emily Wong into congenital heart disease. Work led by Professor Richard Harvey will investigate new horizons in cardiac fibrosis, whilst Professor Bob Graham will lead research into the regeneration of damaged heart muscles. 

“The Institute’s scientists have been recognised for their exceptional contribution to heart disease research in Australia. To have four NHMRC investigator grants awarded in a single funding round is an incredible achievement and is a testament to the vital work that we are carrying out across the Institute”, says Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

“These funds will allow us to make deep inroads into furthering our understanding of heart disease but also to develop and accelerate new treatments and strategies to families across Australia and beyond.”

The NHMRC Investigator Grants are incredibly competitive and only 14.8% of applications were funded in this round. The Institute’s hit rate was an impressive 36 percent.

Professor Kovacic adds: “I would like to say a huge congratulations to all of the researchers involved for the quality of these submissions as these grants are highly sought after.”

The four VCCRI grant recipients were part of 33 from UNSW that received Investigator Grants, totalling more than $61.5 million. This is the highest amount awarded to any of the universities in this round of NHMRC Investigator Grant funding.

Grant recipients and their project outlines are listed below:

Professor Sally Dunwoodie

Birth defects are common, devastating and costly. Heart defects are the most common type affecting about 9 per 1,000 babies. In most cases the cause of the birth defect is not known. This research seeks to identify the gene mutations and other factors, that cause birth defects and uses experimental models to understand why babies do not develop normally. This research will help families understand why birth defects occur and will help to prevent some cases in the future.

Professor Sally Dunwoodie in her office

Professor Richard Harvey

Heart failure (HF) is a significant problem in our society. Fibrosis is associated with virtually all forms of cardiovascular disease and leads to problems with heart contraction. Prof Harvey hypothesises that a deeper understanding of fibrosis will facilitate cardiac regenerative medicine. The grant focuses on technologies that are generating new understand tissue complexity down to the level of single cells. Applying these methods, the team hopes to develop a new conceptual framework for understanding cardiac health and ageing, and treating heart disease.

Professor Richard Harvey in his lab

Professor Bob Graham

Cardiovascular disease is our major societal and economic health burden. Many types of heart disease are due to a lack of functioning heart muscle cells either resulting from the massive loss of these cells following a heart attack or to the toxic effects of certain drugs in adults, or to inadequate heart growth in children, causing heart failure or death. This study aims to stimulate heart muscle cells to divide, thereby building heart muscle to improve heart function, well-being, and survival.

Professor Bob Graham in his office

Dr Emily Wong 

Enhancers are non-coding regions of genomic DNA that play a crucial role in determining cellular identity. They are overrepresented at genetic variants associated with disease. The goal of this proposal is to identify enhancers causal to human disease using in vivo high-throughput imaging and quantitative biology. The focus is to uncover the functional consequences of human enhancer variants in congenital heart disease.

Dr Emily Wong in her office

About the NHMRC Grants

The objective of the NHMRC Investigator Grant scheme is to support the research program of outstanding investigators at all career stages. It builds the capacity of Australian research for the future and creates knowledge through investment in research which improves health and thus contributes to Australia’s prosperity.

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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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