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Professor Sally McCormick Dr Timothy Prickett image

Professor Sally McCormick, of the School of Biomedical Sciences and Dr Timothy Prickett, of the Christchurch School of Medicine, are two of the 10 Otago researchers who have been awarded funding from the New Zealand Heart Foundation.

Otago researchers will be getting to the heart of one of New Zealand’s biggest health issues, thanks to more than $1.1 million funding.

The New Zealand Heart Foundation has granted $1,176,149 to 10 Otago researchers based across all three campuses to help fund 12 projects.

Dr Timothy Prickett, of the Christchurch School of Medicine, was doubly successful, being awarded a total of more than $154,000 for two Project Grants.

For his first project, for which he received $101,168,  Dr Prickett will focus on musclin, an exercise-induced protein which may play a protective role during the pathophysiology of heart failure.

“Although exercise is known to increase musclin in people, and exercise is used in rehabilitation after an episode of heart failure, nothing is known of the impact of exercise on musclin in people with heart failure. Therefore, in a small pilot study of new cases of heart failure, we will examine changes in musclin and measures of the heart’s performance during a carefully controlled exercise protocol undertaken in the community.”

Establishing the factors contributing to plasma musclin in normal people, and in those with heart failure, are critical to further studies of musclin’s potential therapeutic role in both the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease, he says.

“Heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalisation in New Zealand for adults over 65 years with about 19,000 hospital admissions annually. The lifetime risk of developing heart failure is one-in-five, and a diagnosis carries substantial morbidity and mortality, with a 5-year survival of less than 50 per cent. In addition, the prevalence of heart failure is increasing due to ageing populations and increasing rates of diabetes and obesity.

“If it can be shown that people with heart failure have musclin deficiency, and that musclin increases as the hearts function improves during exercise, this would not only allow more efficient monitoring of rehabilitation programmes, but more importantly, open up new interventions that improve the hearts function by increasing circulating musclin.”

His second project will focus on producing a high impact publication for clinical researchers to assist with identifying reliable commercial C-type natriuretic peptide assays.

“C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) is a cardio-protective hormone that can limit scarring and pathological structural changes in the heart following heart failure peptides – highlighting the importance of understanding CNP physiology in heart failure.

“This research aims to produce a high impact publication to inform clinical researchers as to which commercial CNP assays reliably measure bioactive CNP and identify assays to avoid.”

Dr Pritika Narayan, of the University of Otago, Wellington, was also awarded two grants – $341,606 for Fellowship and a $119,138 Project Grant to investigate relationship between clinical features, clinical outcomes, and genetics for people who identify as Fijian and have experienced a life-threatening premature coronary event.

“This project has the potential to improve risk assessment, disease stratification, and drug discovery for premature coronary events among ethnic minority groups, and also shape policy and practice to further improve heart health for vulnerable groups,” she says.

Professor Sally McCormick, of the School of Biomedical Science, has been awarded a $136,604 Project Grant to further investigate the effect of certain antidepressants on risk factors for heart disease.

“Heart disease and depression are strongly linked but the underlying mechanisms for this connection aren't known. We recently found that some antidepressants alter the metabolism of an important heart disease risk factor as well as components of the blood clotting pathway.”

Professor McCormick, along with Professor Michael Williams and Dr Gregory Redpath, will investigate if antidepressants also alter the metabolism of the other lipid risk factors, LDL and HDL, and whether antidepressants can alter blood clotting.

“This could help inform which antidepressants are best for people who have depression and are at risk of developing heart disease due to family history or other factors.

“It is possible that some antidepressants could reduce heart disease risk in people with depression by promoting a more favourable lipid profile and a better ability to break down blood clots; potentially meaning antidepressants could be a dual treatment for both diseases which would reduce the stress of living with both conditions,” Professor McCormick says.

Otago’s $1.1 million was a slice of a total $3.7 million awarded by the Heart Foundation this year.

Fellowships and Scholarships

Dr Pritika Narayan, Surgery and Anaesthesia (UOW),  $341,606

Heart Foundation Research Fellowship (3 years)

Grant in aid

Dr Rory Miller, Dean's Office, Dunedin School of Medicine, $15,000

Improving Care in Rural and Urgent Care centres for patients with possible Acute coronary syndrome using the Latest point-of-care troponin (I-Care RURAL POC)

Ms Anna Newburn, Christchurch Heart Institute, UoC, $12,986

Purchase of Portable Cardiac Ultrasound for Educational Community Outreach

Project Grant

Dr Pritika Narayan, Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia (UOW), $119,138

Monogenic drivers of premature CAD among affected Peoples from Fiji living in Aotearoa

Dr Allamanda Faatoese, Christchurch School of Medicine, (UoC), $163,142

Longitudinal changes in heart health in a Pasifika Community cohort

Professor Sally McCormick, School of Biomedical Sciences, $136,604

Uncovering links between antidepressants and heart disease

Dr Timothy Prickett, Christchurch School of Medicine, UoC, $53,087

Identification of reliable CNP assays to Advance Clinical Science

Dr Timothy Prickett, Christchurch School of Medicine, UoC, $101,168

Exercise musclin and cardiac performance

Dr Nicola Scott, Christchurch School of Medicine, UoC, $189,771

Inhibition of Multidrug Resistance Protein-4 in experimental heart failure

Small Project Grant

Dr Rachael Augustine, School of Biomedical Sciences, $13,747

The love hormone Oxytocin breaks a heart after a heart attack by triggering sympathetic nerve activity

Dr Andree Pearson, Christchurch School of Medicine, UoC, $15,000

NT-proBNP measurement in Pasifika and Māori

Associate Professor Rajesh Katare, School of Biomedical Sciences, $14,900

Development of solid lipid nanoparticles for delivery of miRNA therapeutics to the diabetic heart

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