Grants pump life into heart research

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Professor of Nursing (Acute Care and Cardiovascular Research) Robyn Clark.

Disadvantaged and remote patients and people with life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia are among the target groups of vital new Flinders research projects funded by the Heart Foundation.

The major national charity has awarded fellowships to two researchers at Flinders University, including a $600,000 Future Leaders Fellowship to Professor Robyn Clark and postdoctoral fellowship to hypertension-cardiology researcher Dr Rebecca Perry.

Robyn Clark, who is Professor of Nursing (Acute Care and Cardiovascular Research) at Flinders, is looking forward to continuing her work for the Heart Foundation by leading “A program of research to improve access to cardiovascular care”.

“I am looking forward to expanding my earlier work on geographic access, tele-monitored heart failure management, addressing issues of access for culturally and linguistically diverse groups and cardio-toxicity after chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” says Professor Clark.

“Information communication, GIS and other technologies continue to help bridge the gap between specialist centres and populations with limited access to cardiac and stroke services particularly in rural and remote areas and Indigenous communities.”

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of death and hospitalisation in Australia – with one in six Australians or more than 3.7 million affected.

Overall, people in the lower socioeconomic groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those living in regional and remote areas generally have higher rates of hospitalisation and death resulting from CVD than other Australians.

Since arriving at Flinders’ School of Nursing and Midwifery two years ago, Professor Clark has built a successful team with a core focus on improving access to cardiovascular care, particularly for clinically disadvantaged Australians.

Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowships support cardiovascular researchers as they build their research capacity and become leaders of research groups. The fellowships provide generous salary and project funding to facilitate high impact research outcomes.

As well, Flinders School of Medicine researcher Dr Rebecca Perry received a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for her research into “Echocardiography prediction of sudden cardiac death”.

The cardiac sonographer says life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias are one of the major causes for sudden cardiac death in the heart failure population.

“While severe heart failure patients are eligible to have an internal cardiac defibrillator implanted, those with mild or moderate heart failure often miss out on this life-saving but expensive therapy,” says Dr Perry, head of Flinders Medical Centre Echocardiographic Research.

“This project aims to use echocardiographic strain to detect who in the mild to moderate heart failure population is likely to benefit from a defibrillator and, as such, has potential to change the current guidelines.”

The post-doctoral fellowships encourage and support early-career cardiovascular researchers to develop research skills and independence.

The Heart Foundation has just awarded more than $14 million to 70 research projects to investigate the causes, treatment and prevention of heart disease and related disorders.

In 2013, there were 43,603 deaths or almost 30% of all deaths in Australia attributed to CVD, with one Australian dying every 12 minutes. CVD was the main cause for 518,563 hospitalisations in 2012-13 and played an additional role in a further 680,000.

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