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The Heart Research Institute (HRI) has secured more than $4.3 million of funding with the announcement of this year’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas and Development Grants.

Among the research projects supported by the schemes are the innovative treatment for peripheral artery disease (PAD), discovery research into mechanisms underlying septic shock, and development of a new anti-clotting drug to treat stroke.

The funding is part of a $296 million investment from the Australian government to support outstanding health and medical research projects.

Assoc Prof Mary Kavurma, leader of the Vascular Complications Group, was awarded over $1.6 million through an Ideas Grant for her groundbreaking project to help improve outcomes and quality of life for patients with PAD.

PAD occurs because of blocked arteries in limbs, and often results in amputation. There is no cure. However, Assoc Prof Kavurma and her team have discovered that the anti-cancer drug TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis-inducing) may be beneficial for the diagnosis and treatment of PAD. This four-year project will help take this breakthrough research to the next stage.

“Alarmingly, a limb is amputated every two hours in Australia, with PAD costing our economy more than $875 million a year,” Assoc Prof Kavurma said. “This rate is predicted to increase because of the diabetes epidemic.

I am so grate­ful for this NHM­RC Ideas Grant, which will help trans­form the man­age­ment of treat­ment of patients with PAD and help save lives and limbs.”

Dr Chris Stanley, leader of the Microvascular Research Unit, has received an almost $1.5 million Ideas Grant for his innovative project to understand how septic shock impacts the cardiovascular system with the aim to develop new treatment options.

First-line treatments for these conditions currently rely on antibiotics, fluids and vasopressors, which do not target the underlying pathology of sepsis. New thinking proposes that sepsis is a disease of the microvasculature, caused by complete loss of endothelial function.

As a result, Dr Stanley’s team are exploring the mechanism of severe endothelial dysfunction, and the role of a specific enzyme that results in organ dysfunction, septic shock and death.

“Our aim is to characterise the full contribution of this enzyme’s pathway on sepsis pathology, detail mechanisms of action and use our findings to develop a novel druggable target to effectively treat sepsis and septic shock,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prof Shaun Jackson, leader of the Thrombosis Group, has received over $1.2 million through a Development Grant for his team’s breakthrough research into developing novel anti-clotting drugs to treat stroke, work performed in collaboration with Prof Richard Payne, Dr Dan Ford and Dr Xuyu Liu, from the School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney. Dr Liu also leads the Cardiovascular-protective Signalling and Drug Discovery Unit at HRI.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, affecting 16 million people worldwide every year.

This grant will fund the team’s project “Development of novel anticoagulants for stroke” – providing critical funding to pursue translation development of a novel class of nature-derived anticoagulants that cause less bleeding and have potential to improve outcomes for stroke patients.

"If successful, this discovery will be the first drug breakthrough for the treatment of stroke in more than three decades of research. It could minimise the cognitive and physical disabilities caused by stroke," Prof Jackson said.

Prof Andrew Coats AO, Scientific Director and CEO of HRI, lauds the three groups for these excellent successes.

“These projects cover a wide range of cardiovascular disorders that affect Australians every day," he said.

This fund­ing is crit­i­cal to our research to find new cures and pre­ven­tion strate­gies and is a cred­it to the excel­lent researchers at HRI.”

The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, announced $268 million to support 232 projects funded through the NHMRC Ideas Grant scheme. Researchers and their teams will also share in over $379 million of funding through NHMRC’s largest funding scheme — Investigator Grants.

Now in its fifth year, the Ideas Grant Scheme supports groundbreaking health and medical research projects across Australia aimed at delivering better treatments, diagnosis and care.

According to NHMRC CEO Professor Steve Wesselingh, the Ideas scheme supports innovative research that contributes to the health of all Australians.

“The scheme provides opportunities for researchers at every career stage to translate their ideas, whether it be formed in the laboratory, in the clinic or in the community, into deliverable evidence-based outcomes," he said.

“The diversity across researcher career stage, discipline, disease focus and location will support a wide array of new research and answer some of Australia’s burning health and medical questions.”

A full list of grant recipients is available to view here: www.nhmrc.gov.au

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