$26m funding injection for cardiovascular and cancer research

July 23, 2020
Fast-tracked implants, improving brain cancer care and a vaccine for young people
The University of Sydney has been awarded more than $26m for critical research into cardiovascular disease, brain cancer, autism, and to trial a vaccine for zoonotic disease, Q fever.

The funding, all announced in June, was awarded under several schemes of the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund and the New South Wales Government’s Cardiovascular Research Capacity Program.

Sydney academics were also awarded $12.4m for stroke and heart disease research earlier in June and $62m for 43 medical research projects, including transforming the treatment of osteoarthritis, in late May.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Duncan Ivison said the funding success highlighted the University’s enduring strength in medical research, with more than half of the awarded cardiovascular grants going to Sydney academics.Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. I’m proud that Sydney has some of the best researchers in Australia, and the world, working not only to understand the biology of these diseases, but to develop exciting new treatments using precision medicine, gene therapy, and biomedical devices.Professor Duncan Ivison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)

The University is ranked first in Australia and 7th in the world for oncology (US News rankings 2019) and second in Australia and 18th in the world for medicine (QS Subject rankings 2020).

Fast-tracking safer implants

Associate Professor Steven Wise (pictured right) is leading a team of bioengineers, biologists, physicists and surgeons to establish a new centre to test the safety and efficacy of new cardiovascular implants, such as stents.

Current implants are typically made from metal alloys, such as stainless steel, or hydrophobic plastics, which are used to make Gore-Tex (rain jackets) or PET (water bottles).

Professor Wise says these materials are chosen for their durability and ease of mass manufacture, however, they promote blood clots, drive chronic inflammation, and commonly fail when inserted into the heart and legs.

“Metal stents have serious shortcomings when deployed in the legs and we urgently need alternatives. Many researchers, including those at Sydney, are working on new biomaterials that have the potential to revolutionise the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

“Our new centre aims to test these new devices to ensure they are safe and effective. This is the first centre of its kind in New South Wales and we hope that it will mean Australians have quicker access to new and better technologies for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.”

World-first trial of Q fever vaccine for young people

Associate Professor Nicholas Wood (pictured above) will lead a team to conduct the first clinical trial of a vaccine for Q fever in young people.

Q fever is a bacterial infection found in cattle, sheep, and goats. However, like other zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, it can jump to humans. Symptoms can be mild and flu-like, however serious cases can lead to a weakened immune system, with increased risk of other infections such as hepatitis, and damage to the heart, liver, brain and lungs.

Professor Wood, who is affiliaed with the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, says the disease is highly preventable, with a vaccine produced in Australia and made available for those aged 15 years and older since 1989. However, young people are currently excluded from being inoculated.

“Adolescents with Q fever are at increased risk of developing persistent bone infections, which are very difficult to treat,” Professor Wood said.

“Our aim is to conduct the first prospective, multi-centre study which will systemically and comprehensively measure the safety of the Q fever vaccine for young people aged 10-15 years.”

“If the results show the vaccine is safe and effective in young people, it will lead to a change in the national vaccine recommendations and enable younger Australian adolescents to receive Q fever vaccine and be protected against this serious disease.”

Improving the lives of those with brain cancer

Associate Professor Haryana Dhillon (pictured right) will lead a $4.97m comprehensive research program to improve the lives of people with brain cancers and their families.

The program of work includes ongoing assessment of a patient and caregiver needs, from referral to treatment, rehabilitation, and community support, to systematically identify and intervene in areas of need.

Professor Dhillon and her team will also create a national repository of information resources, a national care coordination service and develop and roll out interventions to address gaps in care, including a collaboration with CanTeen to support young adult brain cancer survivors to re-engage with life.

“Our program of work recognises the complex and varied needs of people with brain cancer. Our collaboration brings together clinicians, researchers, and four cooperative cancer trials groups with the aim of personalising care and support for these people and their families.

“Our innovative approach taking services and support to where people need them, through tele-health, web-based interventions and improved linkage to local services, will help to overcome inequities of distance and limited healthcare services in rural and remote Australia.”