Investigating heart failure

PhD candidate, Gabriella Farrugia, has received a scholarship from the Baker Department of Cardiovascular Research, Translation and Implementation to investigate heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. In Australia, one person dies of heart failure every three hours, and it accounts for almost one in every 50 deaths.

In many cases, cardiac fibrosis is a contributing factor. “This is the scarring of heart tissue in response to injury or disorders that impact cardiovascular health, such as hypertension,” Farrugia explains.

Farrugia’s research will explore, in detail, the development of cardiac fibrosis.

“My work will catalogue the adult heart in a healthy state, and the adult heart in a stressed state with the presence of fibrosis,” she says. “I will also examine these differences in male and female hearts to understand to role of biological sex in cardiovascular health. The Heart Foundation states almost twice as many men experience heart failure compared to women, but more women die from the condition.”

Farrugia is well positioned to undertake this ground-breaking research. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Swinburne University of Technology, Farrugia worked as a Research Assistant in laboratories around Melbourne. There, she gained “a range of technical and soft skills” that will help her on her postgraduate journey.

“I’ve always been interested in medical and scientific research, and enrolling in a PhD felt like the next, natural step in my career progression,” she says.

Farrugia chose La Trobe because of the University’s reputation in diversity and inclusion, and its outstanding partnerships with research leaders, including the Baker Institute.

While she acknowledges that the transition to full-time study comes with its challenges, Farrugia believes that the highlight so far has been “the ownership and direction I have over my project.”

“Under the guidance and leadership of my supervisors, I have a voice in conceptualising, building and driving my project. It comes with great responsibility, but also gives me great satisfaction,” she says.

Farrugia hopes her research will improve patient treatment in cardiovascular health impacted by fibrosis.

“We now have the ability to tailor medical interventions to the individual, and that work begins with exploring the differences in the development of fibrosis in male and female hearts.”