A creative and inspired scientist, Dr Mary Kavurma has led the Vascular Complications Group since joining the HRI in 2013.
Mary loves the motivation, energy and intellectual collaboration within her team.
“It’s a fantastic group,” she enthused. “Our work is exciting and fun - especially on those days when we see results”.
The group is concerned with the vascular complications from various diseases including diabetes, kidney disease and obesity.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes,” said Mary.
With a primary focus on atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, the group is particularly interested in the role of tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) in atherosclerosis and arterial thickening.
The research has already provided critical insights into the role of cell survival and death in both the normal and diseased vessel wall. Excess TRAIL has been implicated in early atherosclerosis development and thickening of the lining of blood vessels. Interestingly, insufficient TRAIL in late atherosclerosis can cause plaque instability and increased mortality following a heart attack.
A second major theme of the group is the effect of diet on disease. The group have looked at the TRAIL-dependence in obesity and diabetes.
This unique finding highlights the role of a Western lifestyle with increased consumption of energy dense food in the development of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Mary’s career began with a Bachelor of Science from Macquarie University. She then went on to complete Honours at the University of NSW. Mary completed her PhD at the University of NSW. This work has important implications in advanced atherosclerosis, as smooth muscle cell death can promote plaque instability and rupture.
Mary was then awarded a competitive NHMRC CJ Martin fellowship which saw her move to the University of Cambridge for two years where she studied smooth muscle apoptosis, or cell death, in atherosclerosis.
In 2009 Mary received a large project grant from the NHMRC to investigate the role of TRAIL in atherosclerosis. This allowed her to employ her first team members. She was appointed group leader in 2012 and the following year the team moved to the HRI.
Mary learned the value of education and hard work early in her life. “My parents had high expectations and instilled in me a belief that I can achieve anything,” she said. Attending school in Sydney, Mary excelled in biology and fine arts. While she considered a career in architecture it was the pure creativity of scientific endeavour that finally won her over.
Mary remains passionate about science as a form of creativity and loves painting and drawing with her daughter in their home studio. Remaining humble despite her success, Mary still conducts science presentations at her local primary school a few times each year.
“We are privileged to direct our own intellectual journey,” she said.