Cardiovascular Discovery Group

The Cardiovascular Discovery Group focuses on identifying new ways to treat cardiovascular disease. The key aim of our research is to improve the survival and wellbeing of people with heart disease and those who are susceptible to developing the disease. We do this through a research program of translational and clinical research.

Our team works across the leading academic hospital, Royal North Shore Hospital and the Kolling Institute. This means we are in a good position to transfer our research outcomes to clinical practice. It also means our clinical experience directly informs our research programs. Our current research involves translational basic science, clinical trials and patient studies.

It is focusing on the following areas:

  • Redox signaling
  • Inflammation therapies
  • Biomarker discovery
  • Vascular dysfunction

Gemma Figtree Professor Gemma Figtree

Professor Medicine, Northern Clinical School
Kolling Institute 

Member of the Charles Perkins Centre

Gemma Figtree is a Professor in Medicine at the University of Sydney. She co-leads the cardiovascular theme for Sydney Health Partners, a NHMRC Advanced Health Research and Translation Centre and is the Chair of the University of Sydney’s multi-disciplinary Cardiovascular Initiative.

Gemma completed her DPhil at Oxford University in 2002 supported by a Rhodes Scholarship making fundamental discoveries regarding estrogen’s actions and factors regulating NO/redox balance in the cardiovascular system. She is committed to improving the care for heart attack patients - using her knowledge of molecular and cellular biology to develop methods of identifying those at highest risk of adverse outcome, and discovering new therapies to prevent and treat events, inspired by her clinical work as an interventional cardiologist.

Gemma has dedicated herself throughout her career to unravelling key mechanisms underlying susceptibility and response to heart attack, with studies extending from the bench to large patient? studies and clinical trials. Discoveries in her laboratory have been published in leading journals Circulation, JACC and European Heart Journal, with more than 140 publications. Gemma is a principal investigator on grants of over $8 million. Having recently completed a co-funded NHMRC Development Fellowships and Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship, she was awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council Excellence Award for Top Ranked Practitioner Fellow (Australia).. She is committed to the advancement of her field and serves as a member of the Editorial Board of leading international cardiovascular journals Circulation and Cardiovascular Research, as well as being a founding editorial board member for Redox Biology, and an Associate Editor for Heart, Lung and Circulation. Her research and clinical perspective and leadership are recognised by her membership of the Scientific Board of Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (responsible for International Relations) and her appointment to the Expert Advisory Panel for NHMRC Structural Review of Grants Program. Gemma is a member of the Clinical Committee of the Heart Foundation. She is committed to the promotion and advocacy of cardiovascular research, working as President of the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance with a national team to secure $220 million in Federal funding for the Mission for Cardiovascular Health. Gemma is a member of the NSW Cardiovascular Disease Research Advisory Committee. She is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and serves as a non-executive director on multiple community boards.

Dr Owen Tang

Research Fellow

Michael Gray - PhD Student

Vicki Snelson - Operations Manager

Associate Professor Sharon Kay

Dr Zara Ali - Research Program Manager

Jessica Hu – Clinical Research Assistant

Tung Nguyen – Clinical Trial Coordinator 

Eugene Lee – PhD Student

Elijah Genetzakis - PhD Student

Dr Stephen Vernon - Research Officer

Suzanne Avis - PhD Student

Dr Sina Fathieh - PhD Student

Soloman Saleh - PhD Student

Jie (Tina) Yu – Honorary Senior Lecturer / JMO

Cheryl Macadam – Clinical Trials Nurse

Pich Chhay – PhD Student

Avedis Ekmejian - PhD Student

Daniel Cheng – PhD student

Karen Ji - Clinical Trials Coordinator

Cameron Evans - Masters Student

Evan Kapasakis - Research Student

Daniel Brieger - Cardiac Imaging Fellow

Joshua Vescovi - Research Associate / Biostatistician

(Vidarshi) Sandalika Illangamudalige - Research Assistant

Melissa Cameron - Senior Lecturer

Patricia Schwarzkopf - Research Assistant

Eustacia Karunalia - Honours Student

Carmen Mifsud - Research Assistant

Harrison Hoffman - MD Research Project Student

Ben Kabealo - MD Research Project Student

The role of redox signalling in cardiovascular disease

Oxidative stress is a major driver of cellular dysfunction leading to cardiovascular disease.

Our group strives to understand the way reactive oxygen species affect disease in the heart and blood vessels, by investigating molecular mechanisms and testing different therapies to prevent it.

Current Projects:

  • Investigating the post transcriptional regulation of FXYD1 by microRNAs
  • Investigating the role of FXYD1 in stable and unstable atherosclerosis
  • Identifying new therapeutic targets in cardiac remodeling and fibrosis
  • Investigating the protective role of FXYD1 in diabetic cardiac fibrosis

New targeted anti-inflammatory strategies in cardiovascular disease

Atherosclerosis develops when fatty deposits on arterial walls cause clogging, potentially causing conditions such as coronary artery disease or angina.

Inflammation plays a role in atherosclerosis development and progression. However, our current understanding of the mechanisms involved is very limited.

Our group focus on investigating the specific factors driving inflammation that lead to heart disease. This insight has the potential to identify markers to better predict the risk of patients and may also aid the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

Current projects:

  • Investigating novel P2X7R antagonists in stable and unstable atherosclerosis
  • Screening novel P2X7R antagonists for anti-inflammatory effects
  • What is the therapeutic efficacy of the novel P2X7 antagonist in attenuating diabetes associated -atherosclerosis and diabetic cardiomyopathy?

Discovery of novel and predictive biomarkers of cardiovascular disease

Despite common perception that cardiovascular disease is well understood and managed, it remains the leading killer of Australians. Major advances have been made in the identification and treatment of modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the community. However, at an individual case level, it is not uncommon for a patient to present with extensive atherosclerosis without adequate explanation.

Current atherosclerotic biomarkers: Until recently, clinicians were limited to clinical history of modifiable risk factors, family history, and lipid profile to try to predict risk of atherosclerotic events. While all these factors reflect statistical risk, they fail to take into account individual phenotypes mediating the “host response”. The advent of CT coronary angiography and calcium scoring is a major step forward in terms of identifying early disease. However, they are not considered suitable for mass community screening. The ideal tool that we are currently missing is a blood biomarker reflecting early phase atherosclerotic disease activity. Such a biomarker should integrate not only the risk of plaque development, but also the “host response” at the level of the arterial wall. This combination of risk and host response should improve the precision of preventative therapies relevant to the individual.

Current Projects:

BioHEART is a platform for discovery of new mechanisms of both vulnerability, as well as resilience to atherosclerosis. A prospective study would involve patients undergoing CT coronary angiogram across the Sydney Health Partners network.

Events, News and Seminars

Tapping into our expertise to solve an escalating health challenge

Tapping into our expertise to solve an escalating health challenge

A culture of collaboration is a key part of the Kolling Institute’s research impact, and just one ex..... Read more

Category: Research Excellence

The latest update from the Kolling

The latest update from the Kolling

Here's a snapshot of our latest research at the Kolling Institute and the impact it's having across ..... Read more

Category: Newsletters

Running for game-changing research

Running for game-changing research

Less than two years after a breast cancer diagnosis, Professor Gemma Figtree has completed the prest..... Read more

Category: Cardiovascular and Renal Research, Funding support, Research Excellence