Studies by the HRI into the effects of passive smoking on heart disease were pivotal in the global move to ban smoking in public places.
Scientists from our Clinical Research Group actively investigated the links between atherosclerosis and a number of lifestyle factors (particularly obesity, diabetes, hypertension, smoking and inflammatory diseases) to determine how these events contribute to disease development and progression.
"We were the first group to discover the link between passive smoking and damage to the blood vessels in the body," says Clinical Research Group Leader Professor David Celermajer.
"We and others have estimated that that discovery has probably already saved several hundred thousand lives."
The Clinical Research Group also attracted worldwide interest in 2011 when we found evidence that women who smoke while pregnant affect their child's cardiovascular health for years to come.
The study found pre-natal exposure to a mother's smoking decreased the amount of good cholesterol in children which may increase the risk of eventual heart attacks and strokes by up to 20 per cent.
The results were more significant than expected.
“We were gobsmacked,” said Professor Celermajer.
“Most studies suggest that if you stop smoking eight years later a lot of your risk has reduced. The reason we were gobsmacked is here are kids who were exposed to another person's smoke when they were growing in their mum's belly and eight years later, eight years after being removed from that insult they've still got a footprint on it."
The researchers found the children whose mothers reported smoking while pregnant had less high-density lipo-protein or so-called good cholesterol than children whose mothers hadn't smoked. That cholesterol protects against heart disease.
The study found the smoking mother's children have 1.3 millimoles per litre of the cholesterol compared to a more normal level of 1.5 millimoles, a significant difference according to Professor Celermajer.
“I mean heart disease remains the number one killer in Australia, so even a small increase in risk above the general population represents a massive number of people that are potentially affected,” he said.