Associate Professor Doan Ngo

Associate Professor Doan Ngo

What are your research interests?

Cardio-oncology

Cardio-oncology is an emerging clinical and research field focusing on cardiovascular care of patients with cancer and cancer survivors.

Virtually all anti-cancer medications and radiotherapy are associated with toxicity to the heart or blood vessels. This means patients with cancer who receive chemotherapy damage their hearts because of this treatment, a serious side effect. 

However, our understanding of the mechanisms of how this works is poor, our ability to diagnose toxicity early is limited and treatment options are not personalised. 

There are many unmet needs and gaps in knowledge to guide best practice for patients. 

My interest in this area of medical research is aimed at improving acute and long-term cardiovascular outcomes in patients with cancer, via an integrative multidisciplinary approach comprising cardiology, oncology, pharmacy and pharmacology. I believe this will lead to earlier detection, monitoring and treatment of chemotherapy-induced cardiovascular toxicity.

Obesity and heart disease

My research program is focused on understanding mechanisms regulating fat metabolism in obesity and its effects on the health of heart and blood vessels. My goal is to find new treatments to reduce the burden of obesity and its adverse effects on metabolism and cardiovascular health.

About 400 million adults worldwide are obese and one billion are overweight. The most alarming statistics relate to the significant rise in the number of overweight/obese young adolescents, with obesity-related complications such as diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases presenting decades earlier.

Aortic stenosis

Aortic stenosis, or progressive narrowing of the aortic valve, is the most common form of valvular heart disease and affects 2‐7% of all people over 65 years of age, with early aortic valve thickening, aortic sclerosis, occurring in about 25% of these people. No medical therapies have been successful in reducing progression of aortic stenosis and the only treatment option is surgical.

We have studied mechanisms and progression of early aortic stenosis and demonstrated that some common medications used for treatment of blood pressure and heart failure may be effective in reducing progression of aortic stenosis. We now are studying in more detail the therapeutic potential of these and related medications with an aim of reducing burden of disability and need for surgery.

Biomarker discovery

Biomarkers are emerging as an important tool to assist a clinician with the diagnosis, prognosis and/or screening for a variety of conditions, and also to assist with the clinical management of a patient. They are usually unique chemicals or proteins that can be measured with a  blood test. Prevention and early identification of diseases leads to early treatment with improved outcomes, patient satisfaction, reduced healthcare costs, morbidity and mortality. Thus, identification of early disease stages with the use of biomarkers provides a diagnostic modality that is easy to perform, inexpensive and can lead to dramatic changes in patient management and outcomes. 

Why did you get into research?

I began my career as a hospital and drug information pharmacist and had direct exposure to people suffering from a variety of diseases. This prompted me to seek answers and understand better the processes involved in disease development and importantly seek cures for these conditions. I decided to focus on heart disease and its intersections with obesity and cancer as these three conditions represent the greatest burden of disease in our society.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death and disability in our society, with obesity contributing to poor outcomes across these and many other diseases. I want our research to lead to improvements in survival and health for everyone affected with these conditions.

Biography

Associate Professor Ngo trained as a pharmacist at the University of South Australia. She spent the first years of her career working as a hospital medical information and clinical pharmacist. She completed her B. Health Science Honours degree and PhD at the University of Adelaide.

Associate Professor Ngo’s PhD was on the pathogenesis of aortic valve stenosis and resulted in several key discoveries: new echocardiographic method of quantitating early disease, first evidence of benefit of ACE-inhibitors in slowing the progression of the disease and characterisation of predictors of development of early disease in humans.

She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, on redox biology and atrial fibrillation before returning to Adelaide in 2009 to establish a cardiovascular health and vitamin D research group at the Basil Hetzel Institute as an emerging cardiovascular research leader.

In 2012 she went to Boston Medical Centre to take up a position as a senior Postdoctoral Fellow working in the field of obesity and cardiometabolic health. During her tenure Associate Professor Ngo made fundamental discoveries related to angiogenesis regulation of adipose tissue and its effects on vasculature in general: her research was published in several cardiovascular and medical research journals including Circulation, Nature Medicine, Diabetes and ATVB.

She returned to Australia in 2015 as a Hospital Research Foundation Mid-Career Fellow and Senior Lecture, University of Adelaide.

In partnership with Associate Professor Aaron Sverdlov, she established and co-led Cardiometabolic research group at the Basil Hetzel Institute in Adelaide. Over two years they attracted over $720,000 in research funding across a variety of cardiovascular areas, including obesity and angiogenesis, weight loss and exercise physiology, novel biomarkers and cardio-oncology.

Associate Professor Ngo relocated to Newcastle in 2017 to take up a position with the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy and co-leader of Cariometabolic and Cardio-oncology research groups.

She has trained and supervised numerous vocational, honours and PhD students and continues to do so both in Adelaide and Newcastle. She has had 47 career publications. Her work has been cited over 830 times.

Future Focus

I am committed to improving management and outcomes for patients with heart failure through better understanding of mechanisms involved and discovering new biomarkers and therapies.

My vision is to establish, grow and lead a comprehensive research and clinical program, which will improve the outcomes for patients with heart failure.

Specialised/Technical Skills

  • Cardio-oncology
  • Obesity
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy
  • Biomarkers
  • Models of heart disease
  • Service delivery

Affiliations

HMRI Program: Cardiovascular

PRC: Physical Activity and Nutrition

University of Newcastle: Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy

Hunter Cancer Research Alliance

Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand: Fellow

European Society of Cardiology: Fellow

International Cardio-Oncology Society