Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease research news

Theme leader, Louise Baur

Professor Louise Baur

Louise Baur is Professor in the Discipline of Paediatrics & Child Health, Director of the NSW Centre for Overweight & Obesity (COO) in the Prevention Research Centres at the University of Sydney. In addition, Professor Baur is a consultant paediatrician (Director of Weight Management Services) at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Professor Baur is also a Founding Director of the Australasian Child & Adolescent Obesity Research Network, which promotes collaborative cross-disciplinary research in the area of paediatric obesity, and plays a leading role in numerous other state and commonwealth federal advisory groups.

Professor Baur's current research interests include:

  • prevention of childhood obesity;
  • the antecedents of obesity and the metabolic syndrome in childhood and adolescence;
  • complications of overweight and obesity in childhood; and
  • the effective management of obesity and related disorders in a variety of clinical settings.

“I am passionate about understanding and tackling the causes and complications of overweight, poor nutrition and physical inactivity in children and young people.”

Improving survival after heart attacks

Dr. Robyn Midwinter’s research investigates how to increase people’s survival after heart attacks, by preventing further damage to the heart. Dr Midwinter is investigating various compounds with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties as potential novel drugs to both prevent the progression of the disease and to help repair any damage to the vessel after a heart attack. In particular, Dr Midwinter is investigating damage to the single layer of cells forming a physical barrier between the flowing blood and the arteries, because this is thought to be a critical step in the initiation and progression of heart conditions.

Detecting and preventing heart disease

Professor David Celermajer is Scandrett Professor of Cardiology at the University of Sydney, and Clinical Director and Group Leader (Clinical Research) at The Heart Research Institute. Professor Celermajer is also a Cardiologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney. He has won numerous awards and prizes for ongoing contributions in his field, including the Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award For Excellence In Health And Medical Research, in 2002 “for outstanding lifetime achievement in health research”.

In 2006, Professor Celermajer was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. His research interests lie in the area of early detection and prevention of heart disease.

Why maths may be good for health

Dr. Slade Matthew’s work uses computer power to generate new insights into a wide range of biological and disease processes, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer. He uses PharmacoInformatics which incorporates principles of computerised data management and machine learning techniques and complexity analysis in a pharmacology context. Put simply, it uses computer technologies to uncover previously unknown relationships in biomedical data.

By examining biological data, mathematicians can study systems of greater complexity than can be constructed artificially, thereby providing them with new problems on which to work.

This is shown by the frequent discovery of unexpected patterns in nature such as the similarity of the branching patterns in the lungs at various levels of magnification, or the meaningful patterns in the seeming randomness of a person’s heart rate.

Conversely, by using advanced mathematical techniques, scientists in biological and medical fields can find explanations for, and tools to predict, a wide variety of phenomena.

There is growing recognition of the potential for collaboration between mathematical experts and their biological science counterparts to benefit both areas of investigation, so science has much to gain from the marriage of mathematical and biomedical.

Preventing atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries

Professor Roland Stocker’s laboratory investigates processes related to the hardening of the blood vessels, with a focus on the oxidative processes which takes place in the wall of affected blood vessels. Professor Stocker's team have successfully discovered a new class of antioxidant agents that protect against atherosclerotic diseases in animals. Their work in understanding how oxidative processes affect blood vessels and blood flow, has won international recognition and opens up the possibility of new avenues for treating atherosclerosis and related disorders.

Helping men with erectile dysfunction

Dr. Matthew Nangle's work is helping to explain why erectile dysfunction is common in men who have diabetes or who have undergone pelvic surgery.

As we age, metabolic changes such as increased blood pressure and weight gain predispose us toward the development of cardiovascular diseases, including adult-onset diabetes; this ‘pre-diabetic’ state is called the metabolic syndrome.

Impotence can also be caused by inadvertent injury to nerves in the pelvic region resulting from surgical procedures such as the removal of a cancerous prostate gland.

Dr. Nangle has found that in rats with features of the metabolic syndrome, the ability of nerves that supply the penis to re-grow after injury is impaired compared to rats of the same age that do not have this condition.

This finding may partly explain why the loss of penile erections in ageing men after pelvic surgical procedures can last many years, despite the regenerative capacity of penis-projecting nerves.

Reducing fatalities from heart attacks and strokes

Dr. Sarah Tarran's goal is to reduce the number of Australians who die from heart attacks and strokes. One of the major causes of death is damage to blood vessels due to the accumulation of cholesterol on the vessel walls. The accumulated cholesterol develops into fatty plaques, which can rupture resulting in either a heart attack or stroke. By understanding the processes involved in fatty plaque formation, we will be able to investigate how to prevent fatty plaques from rupturing, thereby reducing the number of deaths caused by heart attacks and strokes.

State-of-art training at the Molecular Biology Core facility

Dr Donna Lai is the manager of the Molecular Biology Core facility, which consists of four laboratories in the Anderson Stuart and Blackburn buildings. This facility provides both state-of-the-art instrumentation and quality molecular biology training programs for research students and academics. The facility also has more than 60 instruments and has more than 130 current registered users.

Dr Lai runs two 3-day molecular biology workshops, several equipment-related training and laboratory safety training programs, and also provides ongoing technical support and troubleshooting sessions to users.

The facility has received more than $1 million equipment funding since 2006. They have recently bought two advanced microplate readers, Rotor Gene 6000 real time PCR machine, Roche LightCycler real time PCR machine and Nanodrop spectrophotometer.

The Molecular Biology Core facility allows researchers and students access to cutting-edge instruments for various research projects and in-house quality training programs to improve research skills throughout the Sydney Medical School.