Research projects with NZ collaborators hold promise thanks to HRI grants

In 2022, HRI provided several grants to help advance critical heart research with collaborators based in New Zealand, thanks to the support of our donors.

The grants were awarded to HRI’s Cardiovascular-protective Signalling and Drug Discovery Group, Clinical Research Group and Haematology Research Group, with the research projects well underway and making great progress.

Safer treatments for ischaemic stroke

The Cardiovascular-protective Signalling and Drug Discovery Group, led by Dr Xuyu (Johnny) Liu, has been conducting a collaborative drug discovery project entitled “Photo-responsive anticoagulants enable precise control of localised clot lysis therapy” with the Ferrier Research Institute and Robinson Research Institute of the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand.

The focus of this project is on thrombosis and stroke, which significantly impacts New Zealand and Australia as leading causes of mortality and morbidity. However, there is currently only one approved drug treatment for stroke, called rTPA. Previous studies have revealed that anticoagulants can substantially improve the efficiency of rTPA, but they pose a high risk of life-threatening bleeding.

Dr Liu’s research has addressed this shortfall by investigating the development of a photo-responsive therapy for stroke, with the aim to precisely control local anticoagulation using tissue-penetrating lasers. It will also provide proof-of-concept information on the utility of this photo-pharmacology system in the treatment of stroke for the first time.

The computational modelling and drug screening in this project is being conducted by Dr Wanting Jiao, who is based at the Ferrier Research Institute of VUW. The project also involves collaboration with Dr Kai Chen, who is employing world-class spectroscopy techniques and laser facilities for the development of photo-controllable clot lysis therapy at the Robinson Research Institute of VUW.

Historically, the Robinson Research Institute has championed cutting-edge technologies, and the collaboration with Dr Chen marks a landmark initiative to repurpose these innovations for medical applications, specifically within the realm of cardiovascular diseases.

This collaborative research team aims to develop a cutting-edge, much needed technological platform to create light-controllable drug molecules for expediting the development of cardiovascular precision medicine. Additionally, the advanced laser technology stemming from this project holds promise for enhancing surgical procedures related to stroke, especially when coupled with our light-responsive anticoagulants.

“This project has the potential to develop safer treatment strategies for ischaemic stroke,” said Dr Liu. “It also has the capacity to inspire new drug discovery strategies for cardiovascular disease more broadly.”

Prof David Celermajer

Freda Passam

Left to Right: Prof David Celermajer and Dr Freda Passam. Dr Xuyu Liu in header image.

Improving the lives of children born with congenital heart disease (CHD)

The Clinical Research Group, led by Prof David Celermajer AO, has been conducting a collaborative research project in New Zealand entitled “Congenital Heart Alliance of Australia and New Zealand (CHAANZ) Congenital Heart Disease Registry; Initiating the New Zealand CHD Registry”. The project is running in conjunction with Auckland City Hospital, Starship Children’s Hospital Auckland, New Zealand.

Prof Celermajer chairs the Congenital Heart Alliance of Australia and New Zealand (CHAANZ), a consortium of paediatric, adult and surgical congenital heart disease (CHD) researchers from around Australia and the national CHD unit in Auckland, New Zealand. An earlier feasibility study conducted by Prof Celermajer found that there was an overall lack of understanding of CHD outcomes and burden in Australia and New Zealand. The study established the need for a collective CHD registry across Australia and New Zealand, to improve research and clinical outcomes. This will allow for improved understanding of the total numbers of patients living with CHD and the total burden across the life continuum, which is imperative for patients, those responsible for treating them and health care systems.

“This project will generate the knowledge needed to better understand the true diversity of outcome and burden of the entire spectrum of CHD across the lifespan, in New Zealand as well as Australia, in a strong trans-Tasman collaboration,” says Prof Celermajer.

“This data has the strong poten­tial to improve patient care in both coun­tries and to dri­ve pol­i­cy devel­op­ment towards opti­mal man­age­ment of CHD patients.”

The grant enabled the appointment of NZ research officer, Jordan McIntyre, and Database Manager, Melinda Marsolek from Starship Child Health who brings extensive experience in managing large datasets.

The lessons learned already in the project are developing the capacity of the research team to support similar projects at Te Toka Tumai Auckland. As a result, the research capability at Starship directly is being built because of this project, both within cardiology and across child health.

Novel treatments to heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes

The Haematology Research Group, led by Dr Freda Passam, has been investigating mechanisms of platelet hyperactivity in diabetes in collaboration with Dr Maggie Kalev-Zylinska, group leader in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, the University of Auckland (UoA), New Zealand.

Platelets are critical for the development of cardiovascular complications. The collaborative is investigating transcriptomic and proteomic signatures in platelet progenitors and platelets in diabetes to identify key pathways of platelet hyperactivity.

“This project will generate significant new knowledge, with the potential to identify therapeutic targets to prevent cardiovascular events in diabetes,” said Dr Passam.

Dr Ally Choi, a Research Fellow with special expertise in growing cells in a synthetic3-dimensional (3D) culture system that mimics normal tissue, was recruited to be part of the project. Dr Choi is an NZ citizen and was previously associated with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland. Her expertise is crucial to advancing research into platelet and megakaryocyte biology in New Zealand.

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