Laura Vanags wins the Macquarie Bank Young Achiever Award

Laura Vanags, researcher with the HRI's Immunobiology Group,  has been awarded the Macquarie Bank Young Achiever Award for her game-changing work that has the potential to dramatically improve coronary artery stents.

In collaboration with scientists at the University of Sydney, Laura has made exciting discoveries using a world-first coating on stainless steel sheets, the material used to make coronary artery stents.

Stents are often used to restore blood flow to the heart muscle by re-opening the arteries that are restricted due to heart disease. Laura has shown that this new coating has enormous potential to improve stenting outcomes for patients with heart disease.

Apolipoprotein A-I, or apoA-I for short, is the major protein component of the high density lipoprotein (HDL) in plasma. HDL is often referred to as the “good cholesterol” because of its cardio-protective properties.

Laura’s work has seen the successful binding of apoA-I to a plasma activated coating (also known as PAC) on stainless steel. This PAC coating is able to bind proteins in a bioactive way, so that proteins like apoA-I are able to permanently bind to the surface and work to potentially prevent restenosis.

Restenosis occurs when the stented blood vessel becomes narrowed again from a build-up of cells. As well as reducing restenosis, the coating has the additional benefit of increasing endothelial cell attachment, which is critical to the healing of the vessel after stenting.

Additionally, Laura has shown that the systemic delivery of apoA-I can significantly reduce thrombosis (abnormal clot formation), and smooth muscle cell attachment and proliferation, leading to dramatically reduced restenosis rates.

Laura has always been passionate about science.  She began her science career with a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology at the University of Wollongong, followed by an honours year concentrating on Motor Neuron Disease, for which she received first-class Honours.

In 2010, Laura joined the Immunobiology group at the HRI, where she is now in the final year of her PhD. “The HRI is fantastic. It has amazing facilities, but it’s the inspiring people here who really make it a great place to work.” Laura explains.

Winning a slew of awards, Laura’s career is sky-rocketing. In 2012, Laura won a prestigious National Heart Foundation postgraduate scholarship, followed by the Bioassay Link Award in 2013 for the most translatable research.

Earlier this year, Laura won the National Heart Foundation Collaboration and Exchange Award which allowed her to travel to New York City to learning cutting-edge techniques at the famed Mt Sinai Hospital.

Laura has also presented her work at the pre-eminent American Heart Association conference in Chicago. Laura takes flight again in a few weeks to present her findings to an eager audience at the Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology conference in San Francisco.

The Macquarie Bank Young Achiever Award, coupled with her experiences overseas, have created great opportunities for her work.  “The award means that I can bring back a cutting-edge research model, not seen anywhere in Australia, for use here in our experiments at the HRI.” explains Laura.

Asked about her motivation for such dedicated work, Laura explains, “I love the sense of satisfaction, of making a contribution to treatments for heart disease, a disease that makes so many people unwell.”


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