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Dr John O’Sullivan, leader of the Cardiometabolic Disease Group at HRI, was awarded a grant under the NSW Government’s $150 million investment in cardiovascular research for his work Giving the Failing Heart the Nutrients it Needs.

The NSW Government has committed to turbo-charge investment in cardiovascular disease research through these grants, which have been designed to help drive scientific discoveries and develop innovative therapies for cardiovascular disease. “We are intent on making NSW the premier state for cardiovascular research in Australia,” says Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard.

Professor Len Kritharides, Chairman of HRI, was also awarded a grant under the same scheme for his work to Reverse cholesterol transport in at risk populations.

Giving the failing heart the nutrients it needs

Heart failure is a modern epidemic and carries a similar five-year mortality to many common cancers. Dr O’Sullivan and his team aim to thoroughly understand mechanisms underlying a type of “stiff” heart failure common in diabetics, where the heart does not relax properly. It now accounts for over half of all cases and there is no specific therapy.

However, for the first time, there is promise on the horizon. Recently, three independent clinical trials showed that a new class of type 2 diabetes medication called “SGLT2 inhibitor” improved outcomes for this type of heart failure. These medications raise levels of particular nutrients in the blood that are used by the diabetic heart to provide energy. In Dr O’Sullivan’s work, blood plasma from one of the international clinical trials, the CANVAS study, will be analysed.

Dr O’Sullivan’s initial work using human hearts revealed several classes of nutrients that are deprived in heart failure. The team will now determine those that are specific to diabetic cardiomyopathy using their diabetic cardiomyopathy clinic, CANVAS trial samples, and lab and cell models of disease.

Aboriginal Australians are affected disproportionately by this disease. Dr O’Sullivan is collaborating with indigenous researchers in Redfern NSW, and with a leading Australian Aboriginal researcher, Prof Alex Brown, who now has a joint appointment at HRI, and who will provide plasma samples and relevant imaging and clinical measures.

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