April 13th, 2012.
L-R; Karin Jandeleit-Dahm, current AAS president (from the Baker IDI), Emeritus Professor Virgil Brown, current President of the International Atherosclerosis Society and Professor KerryAnne Rye, Associate Director of the HRI and Chairperson of the IAS 2012.
Several young HRI scientists have been recognised for their research at The VI International Symposium on Atherosclerosis held in Sydney in March.
Dr Bronwyn Brown, a postdoctoral scientist in the Free Radical Group was recognised with an IAS Early Career Poster Award for her work on cholesterol transport in diabetes. Cholesterol is an important structural molecule in the body, critical for making the walls of our cells strong, but high levels have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The concentration of cholesterol within our cells is regulated by a protein called Apolipoprotein A-I – a component of HDL.
Dr Brown is looking at why diabetics, who have have high circulating levels of blood sugar, are 3 – 4 times more likely to develop atherosclerosis and heart disease.
“In non–diabetic people, blood sugar is quickly transported into the tissues for storage. But in diabetics, this process does not work as efficiently, leaving free sugar molecules perfectly placed to react with other circulating compounds”, Dr Brown said.
Dr Brown reported that when sugar and its by-products came into contact with Apolipoprotein A-I they interfered with its function. “We showed that high blood sugar can impair the function of this important cholesterol regulating compound, potentially leading to the build-up of cholesterol in the cells. This may provide clues as to why diabetics have a greater risk of heart disease than non-diabetics”.
Far left, Dr Bronwyn Brown and Fahd Ismael (sixth from left) accept their awards.
Fahd Ismael, a PhD student in the Inflammation Group was also awarded an Early Career Poster Award for his work examining how bad cholesterol can become even more toxic when modified by chemicals inhaled during smoking. Heart disease is initiated by the modification of bad cholesterol by reactive chemicals called free radicals which can lead to its unregulated uptake into the artery wall and the formation of “fatty streaks” – a hallmark of early stage atherosclerosis.
Fahd cited a species of free radical which is present in high levels in smokers as being particularly damaging. “Everyone has some bad cholesterol (LDL) in their blood, but the combination of high levels of LDL and a chemical called hypothiocyanous acid generated during smoking, can increase your risk of developing heart disease”. Fahd said. “Ultimately, my work provides clues as to why smokers are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”
Dr Fatiha Tabet from the Lipid Research Group was awarded an IAS Asian Pacific Regional Federation Young Investigator Award and an Australian Atherosclerosis Society Young Investigator Award (runner-up) for her groundbreaking work on a newly discovered type of genetic material called microRNAs (miRNAs). So far, more than 750 of these short pieces of genetic material have been identified and early studies indicate that they contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis.
In another boost for the protective nature of HDL, Dr Tabet reports that good cholesterol can suppress the expression of miRNAs, thus potentially halting heart disease at a very early stage. “We’ve known for a long time that HDL has anti-inflammatory properties, but the discovery that it can regulate this process at the levels of the genes is very exciting” Dr Tabet said. “This is a novel discovery since we can now look for ways to control these miRNAs as a method for controlling the development of vascular disease”.
Forth and fifth from the left, Dr Fatiha Tabet and Dr Kate Shearston accept their educational award.
Dr Kate Shearston, also from the Lipid Research Group, was recognised with an APSAVD Educational Grant for her work exploring the anti-inflammatory properties of HDL. Inflammation is a crucial stage in the initiation of heart disease, and it results in an influx of damaging molecules to the arteries. It has previously been shown that a protein component of HDL (called Apo A-IV) can reduce inflammation in cell culture, but whether this benefit extended to a complete system was unknown.
“We know good cholesterol is beneficial in preventing the development of heart disease, and in cell culture we have seen this effect mediated by Apo A-IV”, Dr Shearston said. “But whether this was the same for a complete system was unknown. I’ve shown that this is the case, further emphasizing the importance of having sufficient levels of circulating HDL”. It is possible to raise your levels of HDL by improving your diet and increasing the amount of exercise you do.
Dr Fatiha Tabet (third from left) accepts her Young Investigator Award (runner-up).
The five day International atherosclerosis symposium was chaired by HRI’s Associate Director, Professor Kerry-Anne Rye and was attended by more than 1200 of the world’s experts on heart disease and atherosclerosis, representing over 50 countries.
New South Wales Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Stoner said, “International conferences such as these provide a significant injection to the NSW economy, and the International Symposium on Atherosclerosis is expected to deliver over $7.5 million in economic impact.”
All photos by Jennifer Seabrook, Meetings First.
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