Holy grail: Novel targeted therapies for patients with diabetes and hard-to-treat hypertension

Thursday, 10 Mar 2022

Can you describe the aim of your research in 15 words or less? 

To identify novel therapies for diabetic patients with hard-to-treat hypertension.

What have you discovered in this area? 

We know that in a setting of co-morbidities such as diabetes and hypertension, nitric oxide, an important component of vascular function, is compromised. This leads to enhanced inflammation and oxidative stress which is the main contributor of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Our therapeutic target is a soluble guanylate cyclase stimulator that works to assist the actions of nitric oxide. Increasing the activity of this enzyme has the ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and ultimately, offer protection against cardiovascular dysfunction in patients with co-morbid diabetes and hypertension.

Where are you at in your research? 

In our lab, we use novel compounds to inhibit inflammation or reduce oxidative stress in diabetes-associated CVD. We have found that these compounds are highly effective in limiting atherosclerosis. Our focus now is on trying to limit the cardiac damage that arises in the setting of co-morbid diabetes and hypertension. We have developed a preclinical mouse model that combines these co-morbidities which is an important tool for testing our compounds.

How long before your work affects patient care?

The advantage of our work is that the class of compounds we are investigating in our preclinical models are already approved for other indications such as pulmonary hypertension. Thus, if our proof-of-concept preclinical studies are verified, the translation from preclinical to clinical studies is expected to be fairly quick and smooth as we are investigating a pre-approved drug for another indication.

You recently won a 2022 Diabetes Australia Research Program general grant — can you tell me a bit more about how that came about and what it means for your research?

My research group and I have been very fortunate to receive support from the Diabetes Australia Research Program (DARP) for our research area for several years, which we are extremely grateful for. This new funding will enable me to pursue a novel avenue of research based on key preliminary data that I generated. By funding the next steps of my research, I will be able to verify an important role for small molecule stimulators of soluble guanylate cyclase. My results are expected to identify novel ways to treat CVD in patients with diabetes and hypertension where NO availability becomes compromised leading to vascular disease. Importantly, the awarding of a DARP general grant will pay for the cost of the preclinical studies in our model and the analyses that we have to perform.

What aspect of your research excites you the most?

I love preclinical laboratory research, from planning the experiments to executing them and even troubleshooting or problem-solving areas that do not work out as expected. This initial area of drug discovery is really what I enjoy best.

What’s your Holy Grail — the one thing you’d like to achieve in your research career?

My holy grail would be to translate the research that I do to patient care. I would like to see the compounds or discoveries that I make enter clinical trials and I would like to be involved in the clinical trials myself. I would like to manage the recruitment of patients, assist them through the trial process as well as follow up with them.

What is your biggest research hurdle?

As most scientists would agree, getting and sustaining funding is the biggest research hurdle. To do any kind of research, scientists need money: to run studies, subsidise lab equipment, purchase reagents and even to pay for their own salaries.  The current funding climate is highly competitive, especially for early to mid-career scientists. Often this hurdle sees early/mid-career scientists leave the profession due to job instability. It is even harder for female scientists to secure funding, often due to unconscious bias and/or family commitments. These are some of the obstacles I, too, face in my career.

Who has inspired you in work or life? 

My paternal grandmother has inspired me in work and life. She was a kind soul who had an incredible work ethic and who prioritised her family. My grandmother had diabetes which led to various cardiovascular complications in her life, and eventually her death. Her struggle with diabetic complications inspired me to pursue a career in science as I wanted to further understand the disease and be a part of the discovery of new drugs that can help patients who are in a similar position.

What new hobby have you picked up during COVID? 

A new hobby that I probably have enjoyed the most is cycling. This enabled two hours of “me” time where I could just ride, clear my thoughts, listen to podcasts and be one with nature. I would never have dedicated that much time to my newfound passion of cycling if it wasn’t for COVID. The fresh air and exercise helped so much with mental clarity and to overcome lockdown fatigue.

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