A researcher at The University of Western Australia has been awarded a five-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship worth almost $700,000 to better understand the process of muscle damage in an effort to prevent it.
Research Associate Professor Livia Hool said cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the western world, almost twice the rate of all cancers combined.
“It accounts for 35 per cent of all deaths. The incidence increases with age and is likely to be exacerbated by increasing levels of obesity and diabetes,” Associate Professor Hool said.
“After an attack, the heart gets bigger, or hypertrophies, to compensate for the muscle not working properly. The heart becomes exhausted and fails. This project aims to understand how this happens and to develop early intervention strategies to prevent it.”
A heart attack disturbs the balance of the body’s free-radicals which go into ‘overdrive’ and adversely affect the calcium that normally keeps the heart pumping regularly.
Associate Professor Hool and her team will use an electrophysiology technique developed by 1991 Nobel Prize winners, Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann, who discovered the function of single ion channels in cells through their invention of the patch clamp technique.
In her laboratory, Associate Professor Hool – the only patch clamper in WA – measures the electrical impulses generated by cells to the accuracy of one millionth of one millionth of an amp.
Her research, which straddles the disciplines of electrophysiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and physiology, will study the effects of free radicals and associated changes in calcium on muscle cells from animal models and failing human heart tissue. This will be achieved with additional funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and collaborators in Sydney and the US.