We’re so proud of the cardiovascular research community and everything they’re doing to collaborate and change the trajectory for cardiovascular diseases.

In 2021, ACvA launched the Excellence in Cardiovascular Research Awards to celebrate the achievements and contributions made by these dedicated and passionate researchers.

Please meet our 2023 Finalists.

2023 Game Changer Award Finalists

These Finalists and their teams are innovating and transforming how we do things in field of cardiovascular disease.

Professor Natkunam Ketheesan

Professor Ketheesan’s pioneering research takes on the urgent challenge of Acute Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease (ARF/RHD), triggered by group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria from skin or throat infections. These conditions, exclusive to humans, can progress to cardiac failure and premature death if undetected or untreated. Despite being preventable, ARF/RHD claims the lives of 350,000 individuals annually, remaining the leading cause of heart disease-related deaths in those under 25. This devastating impact extends globally, affecting both low/middle-income countries and the Australian First Nations community.

Central to Professor Ketheesan’s work is the development of a pioneering rat model, utilizing Lewis rats, which faithfully replicates clinical manifestations of ARF/RHD. This innovative model exhibits near-identical cardiac pathology to human patients, proving invaluable for vaccine safety assessments. This breakthrough was presented before Health Canada, underlining its potential for regulatory approval and revolutionizing vaccine development.

Securing approval for a Phase I vaccine trial in Alberta, Professor Ketheesan’s innovative model now guides an upcoming challenge trial for Strep A prevention, followed by Phase II trials. This transformative approach holds the promise to reshape the landscape of infectious disease prevention, offering a beacon of hope in the global fight against ARF/RHD.

 

Professor Natkunam Ketheesan is a Professor in Biomedical Science at the University of New England.

 

Professor Peter Meikle

Professor Peter Meikle’s groundbreaking research is reshaping our understanding of cardiometabolic health, spotlighting the critical role of dysregulated lipid metabolism in diseases like type 2 diabetes (T2D), coronary artery disease, age-related dementia, and certain cancers. While lipid metabolic pathways are well-characterized, their dysregulation due to environmental and genetic influences remains poorly understood. Using advanced mass spectrometry and Australia’s leading lipidomics platform, Professor Meikle deciphers the intricate interplay of genetics and environment in these conditions. His extensive lipidomic studies define profiles for “metabolic health,” predict lipid-related disease risk, and unveil associated metabolic pathways.

The development of a lipidomic risk score, combined with a polygenic risk score (a measure of your disease risk due to your genes) signifies a pivotal advancement in cardiovascular risk classification. This breakthrough, alongside the identification of novel treatment targets and agents, heralds a future where personalised medicine becomes standard.

 

Professor Peter Meikle is Head of the Systems Biology Domain, Co-Lead of the Obesity and Lipids Program, Head of the Metabolomics laboratory at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and Head of the Baker Department of Cardiovascular Research, Translation and Implementation at La Trobe University.

 

Professor Kazuaki Negishi

Professor Kazuaki Negishi innovative research focuses on sonothrombolysis, revolutionising the treatment of severe heart attacks, especially ST-elevation myocardial infarctions (STEMI), causing 24 daily fatalities and over 54,000 hospitalizations annually in Australia.

Sonothrombolysis, using a standard ultrasound system and microbubbles, offers a non-invasive solution with remarkable efficacy in salvaging heart muscle. Urgency is paramount in STEMI, requiring swift arterial unblocking. Current “pre-hospital” solutions have a 3-hour gap, but sonothrombolysis, deployable in ambulances, presents a compelling alternative. Their Nepean Hospital trial underscores its potential to optimize outcomes, reducing the time to unblock arteries for improved patient results.

This research not only addresses STEMI management shortcomings but introduces transformative potential, redefining STEMI treatment and improving fibrinolysis/thrombolysis in remote areas. This innovation, transitions ultrasound from a diagnostic tool to a groundbreaking treatment, poised to reshape cardiovascular medicine’s standard of care.

 

Professor Kazuaki Negishi is Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney; Head of Discipline of Medicine at Nepean Clinical School; and a Cardiologist at Nepean Hospital, NSW.

 

Professor Ziyu Wang

Dr. Wang’s pioneering research introduces a novel vascular graft that revolutionises the treatment of coronary artery disease. This ground-breaking graft achieves two game-changing feats: regenerating into a new artery post-implantation and de novo generation of organised elastin, specifically elastic lamellae, a first in vascular grafts. The non-porous, fiber-reinforced design ensures spatially controlled cell localisation and ECM deposition, closely mimicking native arteries. Incorporating human recombinant tropoelastin promotes elastin formation within mature arterial tissues, challenging prior beliefs.

This graft surpasses traditional replacements, authentically regenerating arterial tissue and offering a conduit for blood flow while promoting natural arterial tissue formation over time. Its innovative design, achieved through scalable electrospinning and heating processes, allows mass manufacturing. Beyond cost-effectiveness compared to current grafts, it holds potential for broader applications, reducing reliance on invasive interventions.

Dr. Wang’s work sparks global interest, inspiring collaborative efforts in scalable vascular graft innovations and organised elastogenesis. This paradigm shift not only addresses coronary artery disease challenges but sets a new standard in regenerative technology, transforming vascular medicine and research worldwide.

Dr Ziyu Wang is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Charles Perkins Centre, the University of Sydney.pioneeri

2023 Mentor Award Finalists

These individuals have made ongoing and significant contributions to the research profession through outstanding mentoring. Mentorship rarely ‘counts’ in the tangible and traditional metrics of a career, but it matters and that’s what these Finalists and all our nominees recognise.

Professor Ben Freedman

Professor Ben Freedman has a remarkable 40-year history of mentoring that spans various fields, including cardiology, academia, professional organisations, and healthcare leadership. His influence is evident in shaping the careers of numerous individuals, with over 40 cardiology Fellows and Registrars benefiting from his mentorship. Many of his mentees have gone on to become leaders in cardiology globally. Beyond Australia, he has mentored international cardiologists, particularly in China, Hong Kong, and Japan, showcasing the universal appeal of his mentorship.

Professor Freedman’s impact extends to diverse fields, including cellular biology, cardiology, allied health, nursing, public health, implementation science, indigenous health, and general practice. He strategically develops his mentees’ research profiles, ensuring they are competitive postdocs with a future vision. His mentorship approach is characterised by patience, encouragement, and personalised guidance tailored to each individual’s unique needs.

Several testimonials from his mentees highlight the profound and lasting impact of Professor Freedman’s mentorship on their academic and professional journeys. They emphasise his support, encouragement, and ability to instil confidence and curiosity in his mentees. The testimonials also highlight his role in fostering a positive and collaborative research environment.

 

Professor Ben Freedman OAM is the Director of External Affairs at the Heart Research Institute, Charles Perkins Centre and Group Leader of the Heart Rhythm and Stroke Prevention Group.

 

Associate Professor Mary Kavurma

Associate Professor Mary Kavurma is a distinguished figure in cardiovascular research who has not only made substantial contributions to the field but also excels as the Director of Scientific Management and postgraduate education at the Heart Research Institute (HRI). Since 2017, she has played a crucial role in fostering research excellence and serving as a role model. Her commitment extends to nurturing the careers of students, postdocs, and researchers within the Heart Research Institute and the wider cardiovascular research community.

A noteworthy aspect of her dedication is seen in delivering multiple invited career development seminars and actively participating in programs, especially supporting women in science. A/Professor Kavurma advocates for young postdocs, serving on review panels, and excels as a balanced postgraduate supervisor, tailoring strategies for realistic and optimal outcomes based on individual needs.

A/Professor Kavurma significantly impacts HRI research management. She guides colleagues outside her group in grant preparation, career strategies, and research support requirements. Her involvement in seminar and conference organisation, along with service on learned society committees, highlights her leadership in the broader research community.

A/Professor Kavurma is a recognised mentor, particularly for women in STEM, showcasing exceptional leadership and fostering a collaborative team dynamic. Outside of HRI, she has taken part in mentorship programs for Franklin Women and ACvA. Her mentorship is marked by unwavering dedication to career development, empowering scientists in their professional and personal growth.

Testimonials from mentees underscore A/Professor Kaurma’s inspirational mentorship style, emphasising empathy and understanding of young scientists’ challenges. 

 

A/Professor Mary Kavurma is Group Leader of the Vascular Complications Group and Associate Director of Research and Education at the Heart Research Institute. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney.

 

Professor Andrew Murphy

Professor Andrew Murphy is an active mentor, fostering a supportive and encouraging environment for early and mid-career researchers (EMCRs) and positively impacting the careers and personal development of his mentees.

 

As well as taking part in mentoring programs outside his institute, he has set up a formal mentoring program in his institute and is engaged daily in informal mentoring initiatives within the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, where he serves as the Head of the Division of Inflammation and Immunometabolism. In his role, he oversees a program that involves 6-8 laboratories and provides opportunities for early and mid-career researchers (EMCRs). This program includes a safe space for EMCRs to pitch their grant ideas to peers annually, contributing to increased funding rates since its inception.

In 2018, Prof Murphy initiated a successful mentoring program within the Baker institute, pairing over 40 mentees with mentors. The program continues to run successfully. He also mentors postdocs and PhD students within his research group, providing support and guidance that has led to successful funding applications and academic achievements.

Past mentees highlight the profound impact of Professor Murphy’s mentorship on both their professional and personal development, stating that his open-door policy, kindness, honesty and strategic career advice was fundamental to their confidence and professional growth.

Professor Murphy creates an environment that encourages scientific curiosity and independent thinking, allowing mentees to explore ideas freely. Many of his mentorships have resulted in significant academic contributions, including high-impact publications and successful grant applications.

Prof Murphy’s commitment to nurturing growth extends beyond the laboratory, with his approachability and engagement with early career scientists, promoting discussions on both scientific pursuits and personal well-being. Past mentees say that his passion, commitment and dedication as a cardiovascular scientist and mentor is an inspiration.

 

Professor Andrew Murphy is the Head of the Division of Inflammation and Immunometabolism at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

 

Professor Chris Sobey

Professor Chris Sobey is co-Director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Disease Research at La Trobe University and oversees 15 divisions and around 70 members. Beyond his administrative role, Professor Sobey actively mentors La Trobe staff, students, and external scientists, contributing significantly to the university through service on critical committees.

Over the last decade, he has directly supervised and mentored numerous research staff, including post-doctoral researchers and research assistants. His commitment to advancing the careers of his mentees is evident in his guidance, resulting in numerous senior-author publications and the successful placement of former students and postdocs in university and industry appointments.

Professor Sobey extends his influence beyond his immediate team by organising lectures and workshops on career development, research methods, and experimental design. These sessions benefit a wide range of students and post-docs annually. One notable aspect of his mentorship is his dedication to equipping mentees with skills for career advancement, exemplified by the success of over 18 former students and postdocs in securing appointments in academia or industry.

Testimonials from previous mentees highlight Professor Sobey’s pivotal role in shaping mentees’ professional and personal growth, extending support beyond the lab, even during life transitions like maternity leave. Former mentees transitioning to industry roles attest to the lasting influence of his mentorship, emphasising his impact on communication, scientific writing, collaboration, and gender equality in STEM. Professor Sobey’s ability to recognise and nurture individual strengths fosters an environment that encourages curiosity and critical thinking.

 

Professor Sobey is a co-Director of the newly established Centre for Cardiovascular Biology and Disease Research at La Trobe University.

 

2023 Translation Award Finalists

From lab bench to real life, the research ideas and observations from these Finalists and their teams are improving the health of individuals and the entire community.

Professor Glenn King and Team

The HEART REHAB team (A/Professor Nathan Palpant, Professor Peter Macdonald AM, Dr Natalie Saez, Professor Robert Graham AO), led by Professor Glenn King, is working to develop innovative drugs preventing heart and brain ischemic injuries. Their candidate, unlike current treatments, not only dissolves clots but also prevents underlying organ damage in stroke, myocardial infarction (MI), and enhances donor heart viability. The drug, focusing on acidosis during tissue ischemia, features a potent inhibitor called peptide Hi1a, discovered in the venom of the K’gari funnel-web spider. Successful preclinical studies led to the formation of Infensa Bioscience (IB). The team, in partnership with IB, has developed a miniaturized version (IB212) for clinical development. IB212 will undergo preclinical toxicology studies in 2024, with a Phase I clinical trial planned for Q4 2024, followed by Phase 2a trials targeting MI and heart transplantation.

Currently, there are no approved drugs to protect the heart, brain, or improve donor heart integrity. The team aims to revolutionise clinical care with innovative drugs for stroke, MI, and heart transplantation. Success could mean lower mortality, improved quality of life, reduced heart failure, more donor hearts, and a lighter healthcare burden. Even a modest cut in MI and stroke deaths could save thousands yearly, while more donor hearts would ease transplant waiting lists.

 

Professor Glen King is a Professorial Research Fellow and  Group Leader at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. He is also one of the co-founders as well the Chief Scientific Officer of Infensa Bioscience.

 

Professor Francine Marques and Team

High blood pressure affects over 1 billion people globally, with 1 in 3 Australian adults experiencing this issue. This condition contributes to about half of all heart disease and stroke cases, and unfortunately, two-thirds of hypertensive patients in Australia have uncontrolled high blood pressure despite medication. To address this, there is a crucial need for new interventions. While there has been evidence linking high-fibre diets to lower blood pressure, the mechanisms were unclear.

Recent research led by Associate Professor Francine Marques and her team (Professor Charles Mackay, Hamdi Jamma, Dakota Rhys Jones, Professor Geoff Head, Professor David Kaye) has filled this knowledge gap. They discovered that gut microbes break down fibre to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have the potential to lower blood pressure. The team provided the first clinical evidence supporting the idea that substances produced by gut microbes can be therapeutically effective in lowering blood pressure. In a groundbreaking phase II clinical trial, they used a specially engineered fibre called HAMSAB to release high levels of SCFAs, resulting in a significant decrease in blood pressure in untreated hypertensive patients within three weeks. The team is now working towards making HAMSAB commercially available for patients in the next five years, citing its cost-effectiveness, long shelf life, and no refrigeration requirements as practical advantages for blood pressure management. Moreover, HAMSAB shows potential in post-stroke recovery and for patients with heart failure based on its effectiveness in relevant mouse models.

This research has transformative implications for managing high blood pressure, offering innovative therapeutic interventions, especially beneficial for untreated hypertensive patients who are averse to medication.

 

Associate Professor Francine Marques is an National Health and Medical Research Council Emerging Leader, Viertel Charitable Foundation, and National Heart Foundation Fellow. She leads the Hypertension Research Laboratory at Monash University.

 

Professor Sandy Middleton and Team

 

Professor Middleton and her team (Simeon Dale, Kelly Coughlan, Professor Elizabeth McInnes, Dr Oyebola Fasugba, Professor Nagi Wah Cheung, Professor Chris Levi, Professor Dominique Cadilhac, Professor Jeremy Grimshaw, Professor Cate D’Este) have showcased the positive impact of nurse-initiated Fever, hyperglycaemia, and Swallowing (FeSS) Protocols in managing post-stroke complications. Their Lancet-published trial revealed a 16% reduction in death and dependency within 90 days and a 20% decrease in mortality up to four years post-stroke. Collaborating with health organisations, they successfully implemented these protocols in NSW and coordinated their expansion to 64 hospitals across 17 European countries, resulting in improved adherence and stroke patient care.

In 2022, the Team began the QASC Australasia Trial with the aim of implementing FeSS Protocols in 47 hospitals in Australia and five hospitals in New Zealand.

The impact of these findings is reflected in changes to state-wide policies and international clinical guidelines, with the FeSS Protocols now referenced in various countries. The protocols are freely available on the QASC website and have been translated into thirteen different languages, promoting accessibility and widespread use.

This program has not only translated evidence into practice at state, national, and international levels but has also shown significant economic benefits, potentially saving millions of dollars and preventing numerous deaths and years of life lost and has contributed to reducing inequality in stroke care, particularly in countries with limited access to acute therapies or stroke units

The legacy of this work includes ongoing translational projects, both locally and globally, emphasising the importance of evidence implementation and the role of nursing in improving health outcomes for stroke patients.

 

Professor Sandy Middleton is Professor of Nursing, and Director of the Nursing Research Institute at St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Australian Catholic University. She is a National Health and Medical Research Council Leadership Fellow and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.