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Six CHI researchers receive Heart Foundation grant awards 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

New approach reaps reward

The Christchurch Heart Institute (CHI) team is delighted that six of its researchers have been successful in being awarded grants in the 2017 Heart Foundation grant round.

Dr Tim Prickett received a Senior Research Fellowship grant of $288,936, for his proposed three studies relating to improving methods that detect high risk of heart disease.

Focussing on middle-aged study participants showing no signs of heart disease, Tim’s new approach combines measurement of the heart hormone, B-type natriuretic peptide, (BNP), which indicates that the heart is under pressure, with one that measures vascular strain, C-type natriuretic peptide, (CNP). This method has already been proven effective in risk detection in young adults aged 28 years and has the potential to identify those most at risk of heart disease at age 50 years.

Another study is to assess the ability of CNP to identify early renal injury, a common occurrence in heart disease patients, to enable beneficial interventions before irreversible renal damage occurs.

“Accomplishing these objectives can be expected to improve life expectancy both in asymptomatic heart disease as well as in those who have already developed heart failure,” Tim said.

A third study examines the contribution from the natriuretic peptides to improved outcomes in treatment of heart failure using the new “ARNI” class of drugs, which combine angiotensin receptor blockade and neprilysin inhibition.

“We expect to understand whether the drug efficacy relates in part to preventing degradation of the cardio protective hormones, ANP, BNP or CNP. With this knowledge we can improve treatments of heart conditions by developing drugs that are tailored in accordance with the findings.”

“It’s a great honour to receive the Senior Fellowship award, in recognition of the work we are doing here, the support for ongoing research and the opportunity it provides for PhD students to come here and take part in this exciting research.”

Celebrating Success

Dr Sarah Appleby is celebrating being awarded a Heart Foundation Research Fellowship of $150,000 for her work on a recently discovered protein, myoregulin, which is produced from what was previously classified as ‘junk DNA.’

“Myoregulin is proposed to play a key role in controlling calcium levels in muscle cells which is essential for normal heart functioning as calcium is the principal driver of both contraction and relaxation. We predict that myoregulin will be a crucial regulator of heart function, and will measure the abundance of myoregulin in the circulation and determine whether it can be used as a biomarker to improve diagnosis and prediction outcomes in patients with cardiovascular disease.”

Sarah will also investigate the role of myoregulin on heart function with a view to identifying therapeutic potential.

“This work will be the first to show that ‘junk DNA’ can in fact produce functional proteins that can be used as risk assessment tools for cardiovascular disease which will ultimately improve patient care. I am extremely grateful to the Heart Foundation for awarding me this fellowship, which will help me to establish my research career.”

Taking things further

Associate Professor Miriam Rademaker received a project grant of $152,100, for her work into phosphodiesterase 9 inhibition in heart failure, while Dr Barry Palmer won a project grant for $118,846 for his evaluation of placental growth factor as a diagnostic and prognostic biomarker in heart failure.

PhD student Zoe Ward was granted a postgraduate scholarship of $78,000 for her work in the relatively new field of medical research known as bioinformatics. Zoe is a PhD student with the Molecular Biology and Genetics team at the CHI. Zoe spends her days exploring an area of human genetics known as non-coding ribonucleic acid (RNA). Just like deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), RNA is vital for all living things.

Last, but not least, Dr Anna Pilbrow gratefully received a Heart Foundation travel grant of $3,057 towards her planned attendance at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions in California this November.

CHI Director, Professor Mark Richards said, “We are all most grateful to the Heart Foundation for these awards. This reflects the high level of research and the integrity of the projects. I am proud of the achievements being made by the whole team.”