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News & Events December 18, 2023

A Western Australian medical research team developing a new treatment for cardiovascular disease has received $2,147,254 in Federal government funding to develop a first-ever drug to clear blocked arteries.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grant for innovative research has been awarded to Associate Professor Juliana Hamzah and her team at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

Associate Professor Hamzah, from The University of Western Australia (formerly from Curtin University), is working with vascular surgeon Professor Shirley Jansen to develop a new treatment for the world’s leading cause of death, cardiovascular disease.

Annually an estimated 18 million people globally die from cardiovascular disease, from heart attack, stroke and conditions such as peripheral artery disease (PAD) which obstructs blood flow beyond the heart and brain and leads to an estimated 8000 limb amputations in Australia.

“We are working towards the development of a new treatment for cardiovascular disease, which is often caused by the build-up of plaque in large blood vessels and cannot be reversed.

“The treatment we are developing is a medicine which targets and shrinks plaque in blood vessels”, Associate Professor Hamzah said.

While existing medications mitigate risk factors, they do not provide a cure.

“Medications such as statins, for instance, can convert some plaques to a less dangerous type — but plaque regression, once the disease is already advanced, is minimal.

“We are working towards a first-of-its-kind treatment which shows a tantalising ability to reverse plaque build-up without the risk of plaque rupture, which is when a plaque breaks open and causes a blood clot to form, potentially leading to a heart attack.

“We will assess the preclinical risk and benefits, establish therapeutic efficacy and safety and then develop a proof-of-concept for scalable drug production”, Associate Professor Hamzah said.

The team has successfully engineered a protein that targets the walls of blood vessels where lipid deposits, or fatty compounds, are present. It then triggers lipid breakdown from the arterial wall.

If successful, Associate Professor Hamzah said it would be an exciting breakthrough which addresses many of the shortcomings of modern treatments.

The team will use the NHMRC grant of more than $2.1 million over four years to determine the drug’s safety and the patients to whom it would be most suited.

NHMRC Ideas grants were announced on Friday, 15 December 2023, by Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP.