Early career practitioner fellowships enabling research

Two Monash Health doctors have received Early Career Practitioner Fellowships from the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health to enable their research into cardiovascular disease and improving outcomes in complicated pregnancies.

MonashHeart Cardiology Fellow Dr Adam Brown and Monash Health Senior Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology Dr Kirsten Palmer received the competitive fellowships, allowing them protected research time.

Dr Brown’s research investigates the physical mechanisms that underlie coronary plaque growth, which frequently causes heart attacks.

“There is increasing data to suggest that physical forces (mechanical stresses or biomechanical forces) are involved in this process, but until recently is has been impossible to estimate these forces in humans,” said Dr Brown.

“My research project aims to quantify these physical forces at baseline and see whether plaque growth can be better predicted.”

If successful, Dr Brown’s research will bring cardiologists a step towards personalised medicine, where the risk of a heart attack can be calculated for each patient in the clinic—rather than from population data, where the results may not apply to any one individual.

“This study will also provide valuable mechanistic information for future research to assess whether plaque growth can be halted (or even regressed) through manipulation of the physical environment of the plaque,” said Dr Brown.

Fellowship recipient Dr Palmer hopes to improve pregnancy outcomes for both women and their babies affected by pre-eclampsia which affects about 5% of pregnancies.

“Pre-eclampsia can cause women to develop high blood pressure and problems with a number of organs, which ultimately can require her to be delivered early in the pregnancy to reduce the risks of disability and death to the mother,” said Dr Palmer.

“This results in significant risks to the baby due to prematurity. The growth of the baby can also be affected in pre-eclampsia, increasing the risk of having a small baby.

”Dr Palmer said doctors are currently limited in their ability to predict which women will develop pre-eclampsia.

“Pre-eclampsia results from the placenta releasing factors into the mother’s bloodstream and one of these factors, known as sFLT-1 e15a, is only made by the placenta.”

“We have shown that sFLT-1 e15a is greatly increased in the blood of women who have pre-eclampsia,” said Dr Palmer.

“The goal of my research is to explore whether we can use this placental specific pre-eclamptic factor to either predict which women will develop pre-eclampsia or more accurately diagnose those women with pre-eclampsia earlier in the disease process.”

Both Dr Palmer and Dr Brown said they are incredibly honoured to receive their fellowships from SCS and are grateful to have protected research time to enable their research.