Menzies Foundation Alumni makes headway in Cardiovascular Research

PhD candidate and Inaugural 2021 MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholar Julie Dao is making significant contributions to the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

Miss Dao is currently completing her research into the mechanistic assessment of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid function as a preventative treatment for cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly ischemic vascular diseases.

Each year, MedTech Actuator and the Menzies Foundation award 10 high-potential researchers and clinicians a MedTech Actuator Menzies Scholarship to aid their commercialisation journey. This scholarship supports participants’ pathway to impact-driven careers that fuse science, research, and entrepreneurship.

“This scholarship has encouraged me to continue to pave my way in a career that fuses both research and entrepreneurship. Most importantly, I have been able to engage with Australia’s growing health, medical and biotechnology startup ecosystem – this nexus I believe is the foundation to which we will see the translation of research from bench-to-bedside”.

Miss Dao has completed and received a First Class Honours in the Bachelor of Science (Honours) with majors in both Anatomy and Developmental Biology, and Physiology. She is currently working with Supervisors Professor Stephen Nicholls and Dr Kristen Bubb as part of the Cardiovascular Disease Program at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and the new Victorian Heart Institute.

Her work has investigated the mechanisms underpinning the use of fish oil for those susceptible to CVD. This is significant given the widespread consumption of fish oil, which stands as the world’s second most commonly used supplement.

“In Australia, a quarter of Australians report regularly taking fish oil supplements. This is staggering given the relatively unregulated market for nutrition supplements,” Miss Dao says.

Through this research, Julie has uncovered that whilst fish oil continues to be recommended by the American/Australian Heart Foundation as part of a heart-healthy diet there has been no strong pre-clinical work conducted to demonstrate its efficacy in those with ischemic CVD.

Miss Dao’s perseverance to answer this question has led her to being the first to demonstrate the potential of certain components of fish oils, in very high doses, to restore blood flow when there are blood vessel blockages (publications in preparation), but lack of effect of other common components, which may ultimately dilute the effectiveness. This work will support a recommendation for the widespread use of regulated pharmaceuticals using the beneficial components of fish oil, rather than over the counter supplements, as a promising preventative medication to combat CVD.

“Through these experiences, I want to create a legacy that inspires cardiovascular biomedical engineers, scientists and future leaders for decades to come,” Miss Dao says.

Miss Dao is also currently leading the creation, design and implementation of the World’s First Artificial Heart Competition, The Heart Hackathon, with sponsorship from companies including Syncardia (USA), (Hydrix) (Aus), Virtonomy (Germany),  Realheart (Sweden) and MagAssist (China) and organisations including the International Society for Mechanical Circulatory Support.

Through leading the Monash team, Miss Dao has inspired others, both nationally and internationally, to form their own teams.

Her work here has created opportunities for students and professionals to contribute toward the Australia’s Medical Research and Innovation Strategy 2021-26. This strategy is aimed at promoting research innovation and translation and nurturing the next generation of thoughtful researchers and leaders.

“It excited me that students worldwide will be able to design and prototype their own total artificial hearts. I hope to continue inspiring others in all disciplines in reimagining the future of heart research and healthcare,” Miss Dao says.