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The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute has a long and proud history of international collaboration, and this continues to underpin the Institute’s research program. Our diverse international footprint reflects the future of research as we move into the era of 'big science'. International collaboration enables researchers to pool their resources and drive greater operating efficiencies, minimise duplication and, most importantly, to work with the best scientists to maximise the impact on health.

Measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour

The Behavioural Epidemiology Laboratory is collaborating with the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University and the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at Tokyo Medical University, Japan. Professor Neville Owen received a prestigious Australian Academy of Sciences Fellowship in 2014 to visit Tokyo, where he worked on developing new capacities for the objective measurement of physical activity and sedentary behaviour, and conducted studies on the health consequences of prolonged sitting in older Japanese adults.

The role of ceramides in insulin resistance and metabolic disorders

The Translational Metabolic Health laboratory has developed collaborations with experts in diabetes investigating the mechanisms through which dyslipidaemia contributes to metabolic disorders. The laboratory’s focus is on ceramides, a family of fat derivatives that contribute to the aetiology of diabetes and cardiovascular dysfunction. Exploration in this area is being carried out with researchers from The University of Texas Southwestern, Cambridge University and Duke University. This has resulted in several joint grant awards and papers being published in 2014 in journals including Diabetes and Cell Metabolism, with collaborations continuing.

Examining lipid profiles in the indigenous populations of east and west Malaysia

Researchers from the Vascular Domain, together with Institute Director Professor Garry Jennings, are collaborating with scientists from UCSI University in Malaysia to examine lipid profiles in Indigenous populations from East and West Malaysia. In a visit to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, in 2015, blood samples and cardiovascular phenotypic data were collected from eight separate families identified from a previous baseline study with having very low levels of HDL (hypoalphalipoproteinaemia). The collaborative effort will examine potential genetic mutations in these families that may account for the low HDL.

Morning hypertension is a predictor of stroke

The Neuropharmacology Laboratory is collaborating with colleagues in Japan to determine the risk associated with the morning surge in blood pressure. A novel mathematical algorithm developed at the Baker Institute is being applied to the ambulatory blood pressure recordings of a cohort of subjects from Ohasama in Japan that have been followed for over 12 years. The findings show that an excessively rapid rise in pressure is a predictor of ischaemic stroke, particularly in women. The study is now being prepared for publication.

Exploring bone morphogenetic proteins as regulators of muscle mass

The Muscle Research and Therapeutics Laboratory is collaborating with scientists at the Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Padova, Italy, to explore the significance of a new signalling mechanism they recently discovered in skeletal muscle (which the groups reported in complementary publications in The Journal of Cell Biology and Nature Genetics, and a jointly authored review in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism). Their discovery that specific members of the Bone Morphogenetic Protein family are important promoters of skeletal muscle growth has introduced a new mechanism responsible for regulating muscle mass in health and disease. Their current research is exploring disruption of this novel signalling pathway as a cause of muscle wasting associated with chronic illness. Interventions that target this pathway will then be explored as potential therapies to combat life-threatening frailty associated with muscle wasting.

Significant international relationship

The Baker Institute has a long-established and important collaborative relationship with cardiology researchers at Peking University in Beijing, China. The University is a major research university and is frequently placed as one of the top universities in China by domestic and international rankings. For more than a decade, the two organisations have participated in joint conferences, exchange visits and research agreements. In July 2013, a delegation of staff travelled to Beijing to participate in a scientific meeting to discuss the establishment of a core centre for hypertension research. The visit was reciprocated in November, when a delegation of 12 academic cardiologists from the Faculty of Cardiology at Peking University toured the Institute’s Melbourne facilities, received research training, and met with scientists and clinicians to discuss a range of collaborative research projects. This is an ongoing partnership that seeks to conduct large-scale clinical research.

Peking collaboration speeds up research progress

At a laboratory level, researchers in the Experimental Cardiology Laboratory are collaborating with scientists at Peking University in the Faculty of Cardiology to evaluate a new biomarker in the diagnosis of acute heart attack. Researchers from the Baker Institute and Alfred Health have identified a protein called MIF that may be an early biomarker for the severity of heart damage. This discovery is currently being explored as a potential new test to rapidly diagnose heart attacks and estimate the extent of damaged heart muscle. The collaboration has proven particularly effective in establishing access to a high volume of patients at a Peking University teaching hospital in Beijing. This has enabled the research to progress quickly, resulting in an important publication in the Journal of the American Heart Association in October 2013.

Early markers of diabetes complications

The Biochemistry of Diabetes Complications laboratory is working with the FinnDiane Study at the University of Helsinki, Finland. The project aims to identify and validate early markers of an increased risk of complications, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and mortality. Samples from the FinnDiane cohort are being assessed at the Baker Institute, while hypotheses generated at the Institute are being tested in Finland. This ongoing collaboration has already generated over 20 high-impact publications.

Risk factors unique to Indigenous populations

The Vascular, Lipids and Lipoproteins Division has embarked on a collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine at Malaysia’s Universiti Teknologi MARA to examine the highdensity lipoprotein (HDL) profile and function in the Indigenous Malay population. Preliminary studies have identified that many individuals within the Indigenous population have an abnormal plasma HDL profile, and Baker Institute researchers are providing expertise as to whether these findings might be genetic or environmentally based.

The role of plasma lipids in chronic disease

The Metabolomics Laboratory is collaborating with the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA. This collaboration is focused on the integration of lipidomic and genomic datasets from the San Antonio Family Heart Study to better understand the relationship between genetic plasma lipids and the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The collaboration is funded by NIH and NHMRC Project Grants and has resulted in ten publications to date.

Comparison of type 2 diabetes among ethnic groups

Dr Elizabeth Barr and Director Emeritus Paul Zimmet are collaborating with the National University of Singapore (Department of Epidemiology andPublic Health and the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine), on a project that aims to compare the trends in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among different ethnic groups in Singapore and Mauritius. Funded by a Global Asia Institute grant, the project explored the the prevalence trends of type 2 diabetes and obesity among similar ethnic groups in the two countries to determine the contribution of ethnicity and economic development to diabetes. Findings from this project were presented at the International Diabetes Federation Western Pacific Region meeting in Singapore, 2014 and the group have recently submitted a manuscript for publication.

Precision drug delivery targets heart attack and stroke

The Vascular Biotechnology lab is collaborating with researchers from the Chemistry Department at Vanderbilt University in the United States in the area of Nanomedicine. The collaboration is exploring the development of targeted nanosponge particles for specific drug delivery to prevent plaque rupture and, ultimately, to prevent heart attack and stroke. Preliminary results show this exciting technology can be used specifically to block dangerous enzymes that are responsible for plaque rupture, without causing systemic toxicity.

Relationship between infectious disease and risk of cardiovascular disease

The Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis lab has been collaborating with the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine, and the Division of Cardiology at George Washington University in the United States for the past 14 years on a series of projects connecting infectious and cardiovascular diseases. Funded by five NIH grants and three NHMRC grants, the projects aim to identify how infectious diseases, especially HIV, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The project has resulted in 26 publications, including one in the prestigious PLOS Biology journal. The collaboration has been recently extended to the Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden to include studies on a connection between lipid metabolism and cytomegalovirus infection.

New factors regulating cellular cholesterol metabolism and inflammation

The Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis lab has recently started collaboration with the Department of Medicine of University of California in San Diego. This study aims at discovering the mechnisms of how novel proteins found in blood of some patients are able to stimulate natural atheroprotective and anti-inflammatory pathways.

New drugs attacking atherosclerosis

The Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis lab has been collaborating with the Lipoprotein section of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health for the past 11 years on a series of projects investigating natural athroprotective pathways. Funded by an NHMRC grant and intramural funding from NIH, the projects aim to identify novel therapeutic approaches to reduce development of atherosclerosis. The project has resulted in 16 publications.

More effective treatment for atrial fibrillation

The Clinical Electrophysiology lab is a collaborating partner in an international, multicentre, randomised, controlled trial called ‘The Minimax study’. The study aims to assess whether a minimal or maximal ablation strategy (removal of an unwanted structure or tissue) for atrial fibrillation patients results in improved freedom for people with this common cardiac arrhythmia. Collaborating partners include the Department of Cardiology, Royal Melbourne Hospital; Melbourne Private Hospital; Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders, University of Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital; Waikato Hospital, New Zealand; Auckland City Hospital; and Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, UK. The trial has recruited 250 participants, with preliminary results generating abstracts and presentations at key national and international cardiovascular meetings.

Understanding what causes maturity-onset diabetes in young people

The Genomics and Systems Biology lab is collaborating with the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to describe genetic mutations in maturity-onset diabetes in the young. Treatment of diabetes in these individuals can be different to that for the majority of patients with type 2 diabetes, and discovering the mutations involved will permit more rational and targeted therapies.

Informing healthcare policy in South Africa

The Baker Institute/NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence to Reduce Inequality in Heart Disease continues to collaborate with the Hatter Institute, University of Cape Town in South Africa and other Africa-based institutions to document and respond to emergent heart disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Data from the Heart of Soweto Study (including high-impact reports focusing on more than 6000 hospital cases and 1300 primary care cases published in The Lancet and Circulation) has resulted in unique insights into the rise of non-communicable diseases — informing and influencing healthcare policy in South Africa and beyond. A new phase of research involving wider collaborations in Africa (particularly Nigeria) has extended heart disease surveillance in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a multicentre primary prevention study involving pregnant women and their families in Africa’s largest urban community in Soweto.

Sedentary behaviour research expands to EU

The Physical Activity Laboratory is collaborating with the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, UK, following the appointment of Associate Professor David Dunstan as a visiting Professor. This has led to collaborative projects with the University’s Physical Activity and Health unit, as well as opportunities for mentoring early career scientists within the school on projects relating to sedentary behaviour and health. To date, the collaboration has led to the development of competitive funding opportunities within the UK and EU systems, publication of scientific manuscripts and the establishment of national guidelines on sedentary behaviour.

Defining the relationship between sitting time and cardiovascular disease

The Behavioural Epidemiology Laboratory is collaborating with researchers in the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University in Tokyo on a large-scale prospective cohort study of Waseda University alumni, with initial scientific-exchange support from the Australian Academy of Sciences. It builds on objective measurement methodologies developed through the AusDiab3 study and is examining whether physical activity, sitting time and adiposity impact cardio-metabolic risk markers. This collaboration also links to the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at Tokyo Medical University. It will involve research translation to inform public campaigns and workplace programs targeting the metabolic syndrome.

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