$8 million for research into Australia’s biggest killer - heart disease

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The Heart Foundation has teamed up with the federal government to announce $8 million to support research into heart health and stroke.

The funding will support eight Australian researchers with a central focus to be the under-researched area of women and heart disease. Other research areas will include heart damage caused by cancer treatments, predicting heart disease and heart disease rehabilitation and recovery.

The research areas for the grants are based on the outcomes of an extensive two-year Heart Foundation survey of thousands of Australians, from people living with heart disease through to heart health professionals.

The research highlighted gaps in the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of heart disease, as well as the positive benefits of sustained rehabilitation.

Heart Foundation Group CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly AM, said the findings around women and heart disease were among the most concerning outcomes of the survey, making it a research priority. 

“Many women told us they did not know that heart disease was relevant to them; they didn’t realise it was just as deadly for women as it was for men,” said Professor Kelly.

“Most concerningly, evidence shows heart disease in women is underdiagnosed and undertreated here and internationally.” 

The survey also found that patients are seeking more support and advice regarding recovery and prevention of further heart events, while clinicians are focused on new ways of identifying and preventing cardiovascular disease before it can take hold and cause damage.

Professor Kelly acknowledged the successful researchers and health minister Greg Hunt, for the government’s co-contribution of $4 million. The $8 million is in addition to the Heart Foundation’s latest annual funding round of $17.2 million.

Women and Heart Disease

Associate Professor Sarah Zaman of the University of Sydney aims to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke in women who develop pregnancy-related conditions such as pre-eclampsia or experience premature menopause. A clinical trial will identify how many of these young to middle-aged women go on to develop early-onset heart disease.

Associate Professor Lisa Moran of Monash University will modify the register that monitors pregnant women for gestational diabetes to include other pregnancy complications and track how many go on to develop risk factors for type 2 diabetes and CVD.

Predictive Modelling

Professor Peter Meikle of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute will develop a more precise way of assessing a person’s risk factors for heart disease. The new predictive model will allow doctors to identify heart disease early and deliver more targeted preventative treatments.

Professor Diane Fatkin of the University of New South Wales will investigate whether genetic factors influence who will develop the heart-rhythm disorder Atrial Fibrillation. Professor Fatkin will examine single-gene mutations and the body’s response to anti-arrhythmia medications.

Secondary Prevention

Professor Jonathan Golledge from James Cook University will assess rehabilitation programs for people with blocked leg arteries. One million Australians have this condition, called peripheral artery disease (PAD), which causes pain and increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke or amputation. Professor Golledge will also calculate the economic cost of PAD.

Professor Tom Briffa of the University of Western Australia will assess cardiac rehabilitation programs, comparing the outcomes of personalised programs versus standard, group-based programs. Cardiac rehab is known to reduce the risk of having a second heart attack or stroke and reduces hospital re-admissions, yet attendance remains low.


Associate Professor Rachel Conyers of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute will investigate how chemotherapy and other cardiotoxic cancer treatments damage the heart and arteries and cause strokes. Professor Conyers will establish three national cardio-oncology hubs in Australia, combining research with clinical services for these patients.

Professor Gail Garvey at the Menzies School of Health Research will research heart disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer survivors. Professor Garvey will identify the prevalence of heart disease in these patients.