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The Heart Research Institute UK is pleased to announce the award of two inaugural Acceleration Grants to Dr Anna Waterhouse, leader of the Cardiovascular Medical Devices Group and to Dr John O’Sullivan, leader of the Cardiometabolic Disease Group.

Each Grant will provide $150,000 per year for the next three years to these two talented researchers to help speed them towards important breakthroughs in their work that could save thousands of lives – in the UK and around the world.

Dr Anna Waterhouse

Dr Waterhouse graduated with First Class Honours in Cell Biology from the University of Manchester in 2005. Supported by a prestigious International Research Scholarship from University of Sydney, Australia she completed her PhD with the HRI in 2011. She then spent four and a half years at the world-renowned Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University. Since re-joining the Heart Research Institute in 2017, Dr Waterhouse has secured an Australian Research Council Discovery Early-Career Research Award Fellowship.

Dr Waterhouse’s work is an entirely novel approach to reducing blood-clotting caused by medical devices, such as those used in cardiovascular surgeries. While at the Wyss Institute, she developed an anti-adhesive, liquid film coating that provides a “non-stick” liquid interface with blood that reduces clotting. Dr Waterhouse is working to understand how this surface, and other new surface coatings, interact with the blood to help translate new technologies to the clinic to improve patient outcomes. In addition to being immediately relevant to cardiovascular medical devices, these surface coatings could revolutionise medical devices generally, e.g., for application in joint replacements, in the future.

I am thrilled to receive the HRI UK Acceleration Grant. This means that I will be able to more rapidly expand my research and drive cutting-edge aspects of my work. Being from the UK and having worked in multiple countries, I truly appreciate being supported by a grant from my home country. Research – particularly that relating to cardiovascular disease – really is a global effort that has global benefits.”

Dr John O’Sullivan

Dr O’Sullivan completed his medical undergraduate degree at the University of Galway in Ireland in 2001 and subsequently undertook training in internal medicine. He was accepted onto the RCPI higher specialist training program in cardiology. He gained his research PhD from University College, Cork (Ireland) in 2012 and then spent four years at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School from 2012 – 2016, before joining the HRI in 2017.

Dr O’Sullivan’s work is focussed on the nexus of common metabolic diseases (such as diabetes) and cardiovascular disease. He has discovered a new biomarker that is elevated in blood from patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (a common precursor to diabetes) and that can be used to successfully predict the onset of diabetes 12 years in advance. The preventative potential of this is enormous – with 12 years’ notice, individuals could be supported in preventing disease onset by making lifestyle changes such as altering diet and increasing exercise. His second biomarker discovery is one that distinguishes between the two main organs that drive insulin resistance (liver and muscle), pointing the way to better targeted treatments. He is now working to develop the discovery of these biomarkers into a blood test that will help at-risk individuals understand their future risk of diabetes, and hence take preventative action.

He also combines genomic information with small molecule information, to understand how genetic predisposition interacts with environmental drivers of disease. He has recently discovered a common genetic variant that leads to elevation of a type of acylcarnitine in blood, and deposition of fat in liver. He is currently determining the mechanistic underpinnings of this finding using stem cells taken from patients carrying this variant. He will use this information to study the clinical implications of these findings and how they can be used to help people with fatty liver disease and diabetes.

I am really humbled and truly honoured to receive this grant from HRI UK. It makes me proud to be part of an organisation that is willing to support its staff at key junctures in their careers. At my career stage, I need critical mass in terms of team members who can contribute to my lab and help it grow. I plan to use this Acceleration Grant to hire new people with vital expertise to expand capability and take my team to the next level. Thank you HRI UK!”

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