Posted 22 November 2023

SVI joins in search for new treatments for a deadly disease

A St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research scientist has been awarded NHMRC funding as part of a collaboration with James Cook University and other national and international institutions to advance the management of a deadly disorder causing weakening of the main abdominal artery.

Associate Professor Jon Oakhill, head of SVI’s Metabolic Signalling Laboratory and a world-renowned expert on the protein, AMPK, joins a multi-disciplinary team examining whether or not a drug which activates AMPK can be used to treat the life threatening condition which affects 100,000 Australians and 20 million people worldwide.

Aortic aneurysm causes approximately 200,000 sudden deaths globally per year due to rupture of the weakened artery, however, people with type 2 diabetes who take an AMPK-activating drug tend to have lower instances of this type of aneurysm rupturing.

“This will be the first time an AMPK-activating drug is being specifically tested as a potential new treatment for this type of aneurysm,” said Associate Professor Oakhill.

The project is being led by James Cook University’s Professor Jonathan Golledge who says the only current treatment for this condition is surgical.

“An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the part of your aorta that runs through the abdomen. The larger it grows the more likely it is to rupture and can burst, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. Currently there are only surgery treatments but these can be unsafe in some people and sometimes don’t effectively stop the risk of the artery bursting,” said Professor Golledge.

He said over the last decade scientists have been working on why the weakened arteries form and continue to grow.

“Our multidisciplinary team has designed a comprehensive, integrated program to test new ways to manage aneurysms,” said Professor Golledge.

He said the new $5 million National Health and Medical Research Council Synergy Grant will enable the team to further this work over the next 5 years.