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Since 2016, the Ramaciotti Foundations have invested $450,000 in HRI researchers’ work, an investment which is already having a profound impact in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease – Australia’s, and the world’s, biggest killer.

The Ramaciotti Foundations are collectively one of the largest private contributors to biomedical research in Australia. Their Health Investment Grants of $150,000 are awarded to scientists whose work has a potential path to clinical application within five years.

Associate Professor Sanjay Patel’s work

With support from the Ramaciotti Foundations, Associate Professor Sanjay Patel is looking at colchicine, an existing drug used to treat gout and arthritis as a treatment for atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels due to fat build-up) is the main underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, and a leading cause of death and disability in Australia.

Despite current best treatments, many people remain at high risk of cardiovascular complications such as stroke or heart attack – which claims the lives of 21 people in Australia every day.

This project is devel­op­ing a nov­el cost-effec­tive ther­a­py to stop the pro­gres­sion of ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis before it leads to heart attack and stroke.

Inflammatory cells and proteins play a critical role in causing the build-up of atherosclerotic plaques, and then also cause these plaques to become unstable. This project targets inflammation by testing the cardio-protective properties of colchicine, a safe, widely available and cost-effective anti-inflammatory drug with proven benefit in inflammatory diseases.

Since receiving the support from the Ramaciotti Foundations in 2016, Assoc Prof Patel, a cardiologist as well as Group Leader at the HRI, has already tested the drug with 80 of his patients. Administered for the duration of a year, colchicine improved the stability of their coronary plaque, making it less prone to suddenly rupturing and blocking an artery, and significantly decreasing the patients’ chance of heart attack. To date, this research is the strongest indication of a new, potent therapy capable of dramatically improving the outlook for people suffering from heart disease. The next stage is a randomised control clinical trial, which Assoc Prof Patel is looking to set up in multiple sites across multiple countries, including Australia, the UK and Chile.

Find out more about Assoc Prof Patel's work here or watch the news story below.

Dr Freda Passam’s work

Dr Freda Passam leads the Haematology Research Group at HRI and is investigating thrombosis, which is the formation of blood clots and the main underlying cause of heart attack and stroke. Thrombosis is more likely to strike individuals who have a combination of risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and obesity – a combination termed metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome can cause certain cells and proteins in the blood to switch on and become ‘stickier’, leading to thrombosis.

Dr Passam is investigating a potential new treatment called ‘quercetin’, which may stop the cells and proteins from switching on and becoming sticky, therefore protecting people with metabolic syndrome from heart attack and stroke.

Dr Anna Waterhouse’s work

Dr Anna Waterhouse investigates ways to improve medical devices by improving the way they interact with human blood to reduce blood clotting. The Ramaciotti Foundations are supporting her work to coat devices such as bypass machines and ventricular assist devices (to help a failing heart pump blood) with a novel ‘non-stick’ liquid interface.

The current materials used to manufacture these devices are highly reactive to blood, leading to blood clots and the potential for poorer health outcomes. For people recovering from heart surgery, for example, this means that they do not recover as well as they should – there is a life-long need to take anti-clotting medication, which can have many dangerous side effects, and in many cases fatal clots occur regardless.

Each year, 30,000 Australians have a bypass. This number will only increase with the growing burden of cardiovascular disease. Dr Waterhouse’s new coatings will improve devices to ensure that thousands of Australians can have a better recovery, without the underlying risk of severe side effects.

Thank you to the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations for their investment in research that has the potential to translate into significant improvements in healthcare for Australians within the next five years.


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