Getting to the heart of healthy ageing  

ECU Professor Josh Lewis

Edith Cowan University (ECU) Associate Professor Josh Lewis has been awarded a 2023 Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship supporting the best and brightest in cardiovascular research.  

The prestigious Heart Foundation Fellowship will allow Associate Professor Lewis and his team to further research into abdominal aortic calcification (AAC), which is a build-up of calcium in the body’s largest artery and is a marker for cardiovascular disease risk.  

“My research program has developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that automatically detects and measures a marker advanced blood vessel disease (calcification) in the abdominal aorta on images taken from bone density machines used for screening of osteoporosis,” he said. 

“We are using the results from this algorithm in large epidemiological studies to understand for the first time why and how abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) develops and progresses often before disease is seen in the heart.  

“We are also undertaking groundbreaking trials providing these results with educational resources to people and their healthcare teams to motivate heart-healthy, risk-reducing behaviours and improve risk factor control.” Associate Professor Lewis said. 

His most recent Medical Research Future Funded Cardiovascular health mission research Investigating genetic and lifestyle determinants of abdominal aortic calcification, and their relationship with cardiovascular disease, is a collaboration between ECU’s Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute, Heart Foundation, University of Queensland, University of WA, Flinders University and collaborators in the US, UK and Canada. 

“This work can reveal not just who is at risk of future heart attacks and strokes but also why and how such diseases develop and progress. This knowledge, used effectively, can be used to alter the course of cardiovascular disease and save lives,” he said.  

“Collectively, this program of work will develop this scalable test that could transform our ability to monitor and change the trajectory of advanced blood vessel disease, saving lives and reducing healthcare costs in the process.” 

The fellowship will see $692,000 over four years towards the research program at ECU’s Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute. 

Nationwide, the Heart Foundation has awarded $13.9 million to support 73 new, groundbreaking research projects that will leverage Australia’s scientific expertise to save more lives from cardiovascular disease. 

Heart Foundation CEO David Lloyd said that the generosity of donors during the past 12 months had ensured the organisation could continue to help support vital cardiovascular research. 

“These 73 innovative projects build on the Heart Foundation’s strong legacy of supporting cardiovascular research since 1959,” he said. 

“The Heart Foundation supports research right across the spectrum: from work in fundamental biology that aims to discover the basic mechanisms of disease, to clinical research, to work in health services and public health – and it’s pleasing to see that spread continues with this year’s funding outcomes.” 

More than four million Australians are living with a cardiovascular disease and nearly 44,000 deaths are attributed to one, with coronary heart disease continuing to be the leading single cause of disease and death in Australia — accounting for more than 17,300 deaths each year.