Research examines oestrogen's protective effect against cardiovascular disease

Dr Stephanie Simonds, a researcher at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), has been announced as one of the 2017 L’Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science (FWIS) Australian Fellows.

Dr Stephanie Simonds, a researcher at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), has been announced as one of the 2017 L’Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science (FWIS) Australian Fellows.

The L'Oréal-UNESCO FWIS Australia & New Zealand Fellowships have been awarded each year since 2007 to outstanding early career female scientists. The FWIS program aims to promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science. Each year, the program recognises the achievements of exceptional female scientists at different stages of their careers and awards them with Fellowships to help further their research.

Dr Simonds’ research is focused on discovering the link between cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and obesity. Specifically, she aims to understand the role of oestrogen in the brain to decrease blood pressure premenopausally in obesity. Dr Simonds work will critically aid in the development of new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases in obesity.

CVD is the leading cause of death both in Australia and globally. CVD is also more prevalent in obese patients, with 78% of hypertension in men and 65% in women attributed to excess body weight. Therefore, it is critical to understand how the two diseases affect each other, specifically how obesity influences CVD.

Research led by Dr Simonds recently identified the fat-derived hormone, leptin, is responsible for acting on the brain to increase blood pressure. She discovered a population of cells within the brain containing leptin receptors that bind leptin and respond by signalling for an increase in blood pressure. Importantly, Dr Simonds and her team showed that when the leptin actions on these neurons were blocked, the chronically elevated blood pressure was reduced.

Further, throughout her research she noticed that the development of this CVD was delayed in women, compared to men, until females went through menopause. This posed the question: why do obese females develop elevated blood pressure much slower than obese males, despite comparable leptin concentrations? This led Dr Simonds to investigate the hormones related to pre and post menopause in women.

Dr Simonds has recently discovered that this unique protection granted to females is a result of oestrogen. Dr Simonds experimentally showed when the naturally produced levels of oestrogen were removed (as would occur with menopause in humans) a rapid development of hypertension in obese females was seen. Therefore, oestrogen could be acting as a natural protector for the development of CVD in obesity!

Dr Simonds aims to understand the role of oestrogen in the brain to decrease blood pressure premenopausally in obesity. Her work will critically aid in the development of new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases in obesity.