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Nurse stands tall among research heavyweights

Dr Sally Inglis from the UTS faculty of nursing has won a major fellowship to advance her research into peripheral arterial disease. By Linda Belardi.

Recognised for her leading research into cardiovascular disease, Dr Sally Inglis has become the first nurse to win a highly competitive research fellowship from the Heart Foundation.

The prestigious Life Science Research Fellowship – one of the largest research scholarships on offer in NSW – is worth $100, 000 a year over four years and is matched by similar financial and in-kind support from the recipient’s own research institution.

Kristina Cabala, director of the Heart Foundation’s Cardiovascular Research Network, said Inglis was involved in an important area of health research and had outperformed a number of high-level applicants to win the award.

The prize, funded by the Heart Foundation and the NSW Office of Medical Research, is awarded to independent cardiovascular researchers of international reputation.

Established in 2008, Inglis is the first nurse to win the prize. The fellowship is designed to build the research capacity of NSW by attracting and retaining world-class researchers to the state.

In NSW, 35 per cent of all deaths are from cardiovascular disease and the disease places a $12 billion burden on the Australian health system annually.

The Heart Foundation’s Cardiovascular Research Network aims to foster collaboration and multi-disciplinary interaction amongst leading cardiovascular researchers and currently involves 34 universities, research institutions and teaching hospitals working in the fields of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

Cabala said the collaborative had the potential to break down the silos between isolated pockets of researchers and research fields.

“Sally’s work is a great example of what can be achieved if you put together a group of experts with a common cause and let them see the value of each other’s research,” she said.

Inglis, from the UTS’ Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, will use the fellowship to advance her research into the under-recognised and under-treated condition of peripheral arterial disease. This form of cardiovascular disease is caused by a build up of plaque in the body's arteries, usually in the legs, and can limit the flow of blood to organs and extremities.

While responsible for high hospital usage, the condition lacks attention within the general community and even among health professionals. International studies show there is low awareness of the disease within the health community and disparities in access to preventative treatments for patients compared with coronary artery disease.

In addition, only approximately 30-40 per cent of people with peripheral arterial disease experience symptoms, which means that many cases continue to go undiagnosed. “There is a lot of room for improvement in managing peripheral arterial disease and part of that is raising awareness and encouraging positive lifestyle changes,” she said.

Inglis said there was very little understanding across the general population and especially in women of the incidence and prevalence of the disease.

While epidemiological studies have been conducted internationally in US and Europe, there is a large knowledge gap in Australia, especially in the absence of disease registries and national data collection. Current hospital data also reports episodes of care and does not track patients individually, she said.

To address this, Inglis has proposed to examine the epidemiology of peripheral arterial disease to determine the prevalence of the disease and then track and monitor outcomes over time.

“By undertaking this longitudinal research - even if it is only a relatively small study of the epidemiology of the disease - it will be quite valuable to informing its prevalence within the Australian population.”

Inglis said her research aims to shift the focus of treatment to prevention and disease management - in line with approaches to other forms of cardiovascular disease. Up until recently surgery has been the primary focus of care.

“My perspective is that you have to have an understanding of what the epidemiology is in order to really start targeting and tailoring interventions. From this epidemiological study we will be able to develop evidence-based management programs.”
In 2010 research attention in this area was boosted with the creation of an NHMRC centre for excellence for peripheral arterial disease. “I’m now linked in with that group of national experts who include a number of vascular surgeons and scientists who are all working on peripheral arterial disease from a number of different perspectives. The aim is to improve patient outcomes, build awareness and to develop evidence-based management strategies. I think we will start to see some rapid growth in research in this area.”

In 2008 Inglis completed her PhD on the contemporary management of chronic heart failure and this year returned to Australia following a two-year stint at the University of Glasgow. While abroad she studied the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease using Scotland’s unique system of healthcare data collection and now aims to repeat her research in Australia.

The NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Jillian Skinner, awarded the fellowship to Inglis at the NSW Cardiovascular Research Network’s ceremony at Parliament House. Dr Kazu Kikuchi, a scientist with the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute also received a life sciences research fellowship.

Inglis will commence her fellowship research in late next year.

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