HMRI genetic statistician Dr Elizabeth Holliday has received a prestigious leadership fellowship from the Australian Heart Foundation to expand her international research work in determining the causes of ischaemic stroke.
The four-year funding boost will allow the University of Newcastle researcher to continue chairing the Genetic Analysis Group for the International Stroke Genetics Consortium.
The consortium has about 100 members from across the United States, Europe, Asia, South America and Australasia, pooling tissue samples in order to get the statistical power needed to identify genetic risk factors.
Dr Holliday says the individual genetic risk factors for stroke are small and difficult to detect, however the collective component is substantial.
“A lot of the risk factors of stroke, such as high cholesterol and hypertension, have a genetic component and when you put all these together there are numerous individual genetic factors contributing to stroke risk,” she says.
“At the international level we’re very focused on collecting new samples and using recent analysis techniques to advance gene discoveries for stroke.
“Collecting samples is difficult as patients may be experiencing a life-threatening emergency when they come into hospital. In terms of the genetics of complex diseases, we are further behind many other disorders that have now collected much larger samples.”
Dr Holliday says stroke is considered a cardiovascular disease because of the connection between heart disease and vascular disorders that occur in the brain.
In 2012, Dr Holliday was part of an HMRI team that found a previously undiscovered genetic signal located on Chromosome 6 (6p21.1) that was strongly associated with large artery atherosclerotic stroke.
In other Heart Foundation funding, fellow stroke researcher Dr Neil Spratt, from Hunter New England Health, received a NSW Cardiovascular Research Network Research Development Project grant for his study ‘Altering the Rehabilitation Environment to Improve Stroke Survivor Activity’.
A Postdoctoral Fellowship was also awarded to University of Newcastle health behaviour researcher Dr Flora Tzelepis for a project titled ‘Reducing unhealthy Smoking, Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity behaviours among young adults’.
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.