Silent killer, disruptions to circadian rhythm cause heart pathologies

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1. SUMMARY

Disruptions to circadian rhythm – ie jet lag, night-shift work and hospitalisation – increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and metabolic syndromes. The chance of having a heart attack and developing post operational complications are higher early in the day, 40% of all heart attacks are a result of such disruptions.

My project is looking into the underlying causes of the pathology and correlation with circadian rhythm from a molecular point of view. I am doing this by developing a simplified biological model of the heart using precursors of human hearts created from stem cells. Current models use mice, which differ from human beings, stopping treatment development and accurate understanding of human heart disease. My stem cell model should make it easier and faster to identify causes and molecular pathways behind this correlation and aim to prevent or reduce the severity of heart attacks.

2. BENEFIT

Cardiovascular disease caused nearly a third of all deaths (28% or 8310) of Queenslanders in 2016 and it accounts for 11% of recurrent health spending nationally. For Queensland, this would amount to $1-2billion per year. 

40% of the most severe heart attacks occur in the morning. If my research is either able to prevent these or shift the heart attacks to the less severe afternoon type, deaths and transplant needs should reduce heavily. So, with a conservative estimate, the findings of my research could save the Queensland health system at least $100million per year.

People suffering heart failure have a significant reduction in quality of life, and treatment is an expensive burden on the healthcare system. Currently drug development is a lengthy process which often ends with failure due to testing on an animal model which doesn’t share the same traits as humans. My research aims to reduce this burden and help save patients’ lives by decreasing the time for drug development, creating a multi-channel platform to screen different parameters all at once, creating a model resembling the human body very closely, reducing drug doses needed and making personalised medicine possible (which reduces hospitalisation and adverse effects). Finding an underlying cause behind the severity of heart attacks will have life changing impacts on all residents of Queensland as well as the world. Reducing the costs associated with the treatment of cardiovascular patients will extend what health care spending can achieve in Queensland.

My project’s objective is to provide novel tools to improve patient outcomes utilising bioengineering in a way that can easily be fully commercialised by Australian industry. Our HeartDyno platform is on the verge of being released onto the market. This platform can improve the performance and advance cardiovascular research attracting international attention. Many researchers from interstate already visit our lab to learn techniques and stem cell maintenance to enhance their research. Attention from around the world would increase funding for our research, create a larger research centre in Queensland and enhance the education of current and future scientists.

As a result, training in this field is critical for future jobs and economic growth in this sector. Through this project I will boost Queensland’s commercialisation potential and bring funding necessary for economic growth.

3. ENGAGEMENT

I am highly passionate about science, especially the translational aspect of it, and conveying STEM culture and opportunities to other people is a high priority to me. I have been involved in the promotion of science through high school, undergraduate, pre-doctorate and early doctorate work in a mixture of roles from founder, leader, organiser to volunteer.

I believe the best way to spark the STEM interest in peers is through societies. I was a co-founder and a secretary of the Napier Biological Sciences Society as well as PubScience Edinburgh, which was open to all to meet and discuss science by watching scientific movies or reading books/articles and discussing the contents together with an invited scientific speaker. 

In Poland I organised talks and poster competitions at high schools promoting STEM interests, whilst in 2017 I was a co-organiser of the National Chemistry Competition in the Czech Republic. During my work at nursing home I organised presentations on scientific news to the patients to keep them informed.

For further STEM engagement and promotion, I involve myself with societies and in representative roles. At Edinburgh Napier University, I was elected as Microbiology Student Representative and Life Sciences Programme Representative, giving me the opportunity to voice student feedback, create and work on Science Days and Knowledge Empowerment System, a resource for poor locations worldwide providing them with free educational material. I was secretary of the Student Association at the Future Industries Institute, where I organised networking evenings and Q&A events with STEM representatives from academia and industry.

At present, I am the President and Spokesperson for the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer (QIMRB) Student Society which entails connecting, engaging and involving students to create a feedback link between students and staff.


Last year I had a lot of engagement in STEM promotional activities: At Science Alive in Adelaide, I ran the Australian Microbiology Society stall, to promote microbiology and encourage the next generation into STEM. I also ran a workshop on microfabrication at the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s Winter School as a volunteer.  

This year I have also spoken as a PhD Student Representative about my perspective on doctorate student life during a networking afternoon held by Biomedical Engineering Society at QUT. I was a volunteer tour guide and presented a science poster to encourage high school students to pursue a career in STEM at a student open day at QIMRB. In addition, I helped organise QUT’s first Lego robotics tournament which gave me an inspiring perspective on STEM promotion by cross promoting science and engineering while the interest and involvement of kids was very inspiring. I also became a PhD buddy at QIMRB to give back to the STEM field as a mentor. 

Equality in STEM is also a very important matter to me as a female in Science. During 2016 Young European Leadership Conference I was invited to represent Poland as a Delegate for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, creating new policies and speaking with politicians at European Parliament in Brussels. 

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