Hearty success in NSW Medical Research Cardiovascular grants

Heart disease kills one person every 12 minutes in Australia, and is still the leading cause of death globally. Despite enormous improvements in health outcomes over the years, heart disease is still one of the biggest health burdens on our economy.

​​​​Hence, in 2018 the NSW Government announced targeted funding into cardiovascular disease with a $150 million investment over 10 years. This targeted investment in cardiovascular research is directed across the spectrum, with a focus on predicting, preventing and treating heart disease.

This year, over $20 million in funding has been awarded to NSW cardiovascular researchers, with three of our researchers selected to share in the highly competitive state government grants.

The NSW Medical Research Cardiovascular grants support high-quality cardiovascular researchers to improve health outcomes for patients with cardiovascular disease.


Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden was awarded an Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant of more than $735,000 for a project “A scalable intervention to improve cardiovascular risks in primary school students.”

This project focuses on two modifiable risks for cardiovascular disease in school children: physical inactivity and cardiorespiratory fitness. This scalable project aims to introduce an ‘activity supporting school uniform’ to assess how successful this simple switch could be. Traditional uniforms of leather shoes, and girls’ tunics, can restrict movement – holding them back from participating in sport or physical activity. Could a change in clothing change behavior?

Associate Professor Wolfenden said he was tremendously excited about undertaking this study.

“Changing school uniforms so that they are more supportive of physical activity is a simple intervention that has the potential to improve population levels of child physical activity, particularly among girls,” Associate Professor Wolfenden said.

Associate Professor Aaron Sverdlov has been awarded a Cardiovascular Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant for more than $736,000 to help answer the question: “Can we treat cancer without breaking the heart? From cardiotoxicity to cardioprotection – reversing the impact of cancer therapies on cardiovascular health for cancer patients”.

Working in partnership with Associate Professor Doan Ngo, the duo has established a unique first-in-Australia program aimed at helping cancer patients and survivors better manage their heart health. The program has multiple components ranging from fundamental research into mechanisms of disease through to providing best practice models of clinical care.

The key goal of this research program is to help prevent development of heart disease secondary to the commonest cancer treatments.


“Our vision is to improve heart health of people living with and beyond cancer. This project will enhance Australian drug discovery in cardio-oncology by re-purposing pre-existing treatments and developing new ones that have multiple purposes, covering both cardioprotection and anti-cancer properties,” Aaron said.

“The overall goal is to enable and lead a NSW-initiated direct translation of world-class Australian biomedical research, into lifesaving medicines for a rapidly rising number of patients with concomitant cancer and cardiovascular diseases worldwide.”

The third project grant of more than $708,000 was awarded to Professor Neil Spratt who received a Cardiovascular Senior Researcher Grant for a project “Keep the pressure down: preserving brain blood flow during stroke by preventing intracranial pressure elevation.”

This project builds on Professor Spratt’s extensive body of research aimed at improving outcomes for stroke patients.

Professor Spratt said he and his team are really excited by this grant.

“This program of work started with new discoveries in the laboratory, has been confirmed in studies in patients, and is now nearing the stage of being ready for testing as a very promising treatment to improve the outcome of stroke patients. It is fantastic that NSW Health sees the value in funding such translational work.”

These grants are highly competitive, and a testament to the fine research that our researchers are doing in conjunction with our partners at Hunter Medical Research Institute, the Local Health District and Hunter New England Population Health.

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