Immunobiology.

Our mission is to uncover ways to stimulate atherosclerotic plaque regression

and increase stent ‘biocompatibility’ to prevent heart attack and improve long-term prognosis.

The Immunobiology Group focusses on exploring the role of potential therapeutic targets (specifically chemokines and high-density lipoproteins) by elucidating the molecular mechanisms involved in vascular complications associated with heart disease, including those involved in atherosclerotic plaque progression and impaired angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation). Additionally, work is also being done to improve stent biocompatibility and longevity.

Chemokines are small inflammatory proteins that play key roles in the body’s immune response to injury or infection. They direct the migration of inflammatory cells to sites of vascular injury and play a critical role in diseases such as atherosclerosis and inflammatory angiogenesis.

Another line of research assesses how high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or “good” cholesterol) might be used as a therapy to aid recovery and improve outcomes from stent implantation (an operation to open a blocked blood vessel). We are also investigating how HDL regulates angiogenesis in diabetes, a condition in which angiogenesis is severely impaired.

The Immunobiology group also has a strong interest in gene transfer technology, which involves using viruses to increase the levels of a protein of interest. We have developed a number of different viral strategies to promote the levels of HDL and broad spectrum inhibitors of chemokines.

What impact will this research have?

The Immunobiology Group hopes to identify potential new therapeutic targets that might be useful in (1) reducing atherosclerotic plaque formation, (2) promoting blood vessel formation in diabetic patients; and (3) improving stent biocompatibility and longevity, all of which will alleviate the detrimental impact of vascular complications associated with heart disease.

Current projects 

Using the “good” cholesterol to increase stent biocompatibility and longevity

The effectiveness of current vascular interventions such as stenting is limited due to unwanted cell re-growth that restricts blood flow, causing stent failure. This is driven by inflammation and the proliferation of smooth muscle cells (SMCs). HDL (“good” cholesterol) inhibits inflammation and SMC proliferation. This project will explore the therapeutic role of HDL in the prevention of early stent failure.

HDL rescues diabetes-impaired angiogenesis

Angiogenesis is important for development and growth and is critical for recovery following a heart attack. Disordered angiogenesis and impaired wound healing are important contributors to the clinical complications of diabetic patients. We have previously shown that HDL can promote angiogenesis and now seek to determine if HDL can rescue diabetes-impaired angiogenesis; and elucidate its mechanism of action.

Testing the utility of broad-spectrum chemokine blockade to inhibit in-stent restenosis

 Restenosis is the re-narrowing of a vessel following stent deployment as a result of inflammatory effects caused by chemokines at the site of injury. We have previously shown that chemokine-binding proteins “M3” and “35K” provide broad-spectrum blockade of chemokine activity and we seek to determine the importance of chemokines in the development of key processes associated with early stent failure.

Dr Christina Bursill
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Latest news

Meet the team: Imala Alwis

I'm Imala Alwis and I am a senior research officer at the Heart Research Institute, working in the Thrombosis group. Heart disease has affected me personally. My dad was in his mid fifties when he had triple bypass surgery. He led a very healthy lifestyle and he was only diagnosed during a routine medical check up.

Awards (2010 to 2015)

Scholarships/Council Awards

James King of Irrawang Travelling Scholarship, The University of Sydney, awarded to Anisyah Ridiandries, 2015.

National Heart Foundation Collaboration and Exchange Award, awarded to Laura Vanags who visited two labs in New York to learn unique surgical techniques, 2014.

National Heart Foundation, PhD Scholarship, awarded to Laura Vanags (2013) and Jamie Morton (2010)

National Health and Medical Research Council, PhD Scholarship, awarded to Jamie Morton, 2010

HRI Young Achiever Awards for Excellence (2010-2015)

Laura Vanags – Macquarie Bank Young Achiever Award 2015

Dr. Hamish Prosser – Blackmores Award for Excellence 2012

Jamie Morton – Salteri Family Young Achiever Award 2012.

Conference Abstract Awards

International Meetings

Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) Early Career Reception – top rated abstract by an Early Career ATVB Researcher for American Heart Association Scientific Sessions

•    Dr. Joanne Tan – 2014.

•    Dr. Hamish Prosser – 2013.

National Meetings

Young Investigator BioAssay LINK Award for Most Commercially Translatable Research

•    Laura Vanags – 2013.

•    Dr. Hamish Prosser – 2011.

Australian Atherosclerosis Society

•    Laura Vanags – Young Investigator Finalist, 2014.

•    Anisyah Ridiandries – Student Finalist, 2014.

•    Dr. Hamish Prosser – Young Investigator Runner Up, 2011.

Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand

•    Jamie Morton – Poster Prize Winner, 2012.

Abstracts Accepted for Oral Presentation at International Meetings

Dr. Joanne Tan

•    American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions; Boston, USA; 2015.

•    American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; Chicago, USA; 2014.

Dr. Hamish Prosser

•    American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; Dallas, USA; 2013.

Conference Travel Awards

International Awards

Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Travel Award for Young Investigators, Dr. Joanne Tan – 1 of 25 recipients and the only recipient from Australia, 2012.

National Awards

Australian Atherosclerosis Society Trust Fund (for International Conference Travel)

•    Dr. Joanne Tan – 2012 & 2014.

•    Anisyah Ridiandries – 2014.

•    Dr. Hamish Prosser – 2013.

University of Sydney Early Career Researcher Overseas Travel Grant, Dr. Joanne Tan – 2013.

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