Emerging Leaders Committee | Australian Cardiovascular Alliance (ACvA)

ACvA Emerging Leaders Committee

The ACvA Emerging Leaders Committee was established in 2018 to provide a conduit between the ACvA Board, the cardiovascular research community and the public. We aim to promote awareness of the burden of cardiovascular disease in Australia, the need for increased cardiovascular research funding and provide opportunities to ensure the retention of early- and mid-career cardiovascular researchers.

Roles of the ACvA Emerging Leaders Committee
• To develop, drive and communicate initiatives to raise awareness of the need for increased funding for cardiovascular research within the research community and the general public
• To create collaborative and networking opportunities for early and mid-career cardiovascular researchers in Australia
• To stem the loss of early- and mid-career cardiovascular researchers in Australia through the development of national strategies
• To create forums for the advocacy of cardiovascular research and funding at local (public), government and the wider research community levels

Current Initiatives
• Development of the Cardiovascular Champions Program that will provide media training opportunities to raise the profile of the ACvA, enhance visibility of cardiovascular research within Australia and assist early and mid-career researchers in their own career development (This will launch mid-2019)
• Creation of a national database of emerging cardiovascular leaders to call upon for conference talks and public awareness events as well as to improve early and mid-career researcher collaboration and networking between research societies and institutes
• Development of a nationwide survey to understand the causes and assess the impact of the loss of early and mid-career researchers from cardiovascular research in Australia
• Raising public awareness of the need for funding for cardiovascular disease research and improve public engagement through
o Public seminars across all states
o Social media including Twitter
o Short videos (as seen on the website)

Dr Francine Marques – Committee Chair

Dr Francine Marques is a National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow and head of the Hypertension Research laboratory at Monash University. She was awarded her PhD in 2012 at the University of Sydney, in the field of the molecular genomics of hypertension. She was previously a NHMRC (ranked second overall) and Heart Foundation early career fellow from 2012-2016. She was elected as a member of the executive committee for the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia, chair of the mentoring committee for the International Society of Hypertension and the inaugural chair of the Emerging Leaders Committee of the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance. Dr Marques investigates the molecular mechanisms behind the development of high blood pressure, a highly prevalent chronic disease which is the main risk factor for cardiovascular death. Her research focuses on disease identification, prevention and treatment. Dr Marques has demonstrated a role for small non-coding RNAs and gut microbes in the development of experimental and clinical hypertension. She is currently doing clinical trials to develop new therapies that manipulate gut microbes and their metabolites to lower blood pressure.


Dr Anna Calkin

Dr Anna Calkin is Head of the Lipid Metabolism and Cardiometabolic Disease Laboratory at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. She also holds an adjunct appointment in the Central Clinical School, Monash University. Anna completed her PhD studies with Prof Mark Cooper at the Baker Institute, then secured a Peter Doherty Fellowship to undertake post-doctoral studies on the anti-thrombotic effects of rHDL with Prof Shaun Jackson at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases. She then received a NHF Overseas Fellowship to work with Prof Peter Tontonoz at UCLA, where she defined the E3 ligase, IDOL, as an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for the regulation of lipid metabolism and demonstrated its importance in regulating cholesterol levels in humans. She also developed a mouse model of atherosclerosis, currently available from Jackson Laboratories, which has been used by Astra Zeneca in their preclinical pipeline. Anna returned to Australia in 2013 to lead her own group, and secured a NHF Future Leader Fellowship.

Anna leads a research program that focuses on preventing the onset of cardiometabolic diseases driven by excess lipid accumulation, including myocardial infarction and fatty liver disease. She has an interest in identifying novel regulators of lipid metabolism using a discovery platform she established with collaborators, which combines cutting edge proteomics and lipidomics across 100+ strains of genetically diverse mice. This work has identified biomarkers with translational potential, fostered promising commercial ties and has led to a recently filed international patent and a manuscript in Nature. Anna has also publications in JCI, PNAS, Circulation and Nature Reviews and has had grant and fellowship support from the NHMRC, NHF and Diabetes Australia.

Anna also has a strong interest in promoting awareness around the challenges faced by women in science. She Chairs the Gender Equity & Diversity Committee at the Baker Institute, is a member of the A+ Gender Equity Initiative, and has involvement with SAGE.

Dr Dean Picone

Dean is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research. He is a member of Professor James Sharman’s Blood Pressure Research Group, where he completed his PhD in 2018.

Dean’s area of interest is blood pressure measurement and large artery physiology, and his research has been published in JACC, Hypertension and Journal of Hypertension. The aim of his current work is to improve the quality and accuracy of blood pressure measurement and to determine the clinical relevance of specific patterns of pressure transmission around the body.

Dean is an active member of the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia and International Society of Hypertension, with positions on their early career researcher committees. When he is not at work, you may find him on a mountain bike trail, at a beach or spending time with his partner and their dog.

Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst


Dr Blekkenhorst is an NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow and a National Heart Foundation Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. Her research aims to better understand the cardiometabolic health effects of specific vegetables and their bioactive constituents, as well as finding new and improved ways to encourage people to eat more vegetables every day.

Dr Joanne Tan

Dr. Joanne Tan is a senior postdoctoral researcher within the Heart & Vascular Health Program, Lifelong Health Theme at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and holds affiliate senior lecturer positions at The University of Sydney and The University of Adelaide. Joanne completed her PhD in 2007 at The University of Sydney where she looked at the molecular mechanisms that drive the development of the metabolic syndrome, the precursor to type 2 diabetes mellitus. In 2007, Joanne began her postdoctoral research at the Heart Research Institute where she investigated the vasculo-protective effects of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). In 2011, she then began working on the mechanisms underpinning the ability of HDL to regulate angiogenesis under the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Christina Bursill and A/Prof. Martin Ng.

Joanne has contributed to seminal discoveries on novel targets and regulators in the field of angiogenesis, which have led to publications in highly ranked journals including Diabetes, Cardiovascular Research and The FASEB Journal. She has received invitations for oral presentations and to chair sessions at the most prestigious international & national conferences for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and vascular biology and has won several awards: 2009 Ralph Reader Prize, the most prestigious cardiovascular young investigator award & 2010 NSW Industry & Investment Post-Doctoral Award for Excellence in Medical Research. In 2017, Joanne was recruited to the SAHMRI where she leads an independent research team that seeks to identify novel therapeutic targets that relieve the debilitating effects of diabetic vascular complications, which has been aided by grants from Diabetes Australia.

Joanne is committed to promoting and advocating for cardiovascular research in Australia and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Australian Atherosclerosis Society and the ACvA Emerging Leader Committee.

Dr Jason Wu

Dr. Jason Wu has a PhD in biomedical sciences and MSc in Biostatistics, and is am currently appointed as an Associate Professor at the George Institute for Global Health, University of New South Wales. Jason’s research and teaching focuses on tackling poor diet-related disease burden through 1) monitoring the food environment, and exploring the effectiveness of policy interventions to improve diet quality, and 2) investigating nutritional factors for cardiometabolic diseases prevention.


Dr Katrina Mirabito Colafella

Dr Katrina Mirabito Colafella is a NHMRC CJ Martin Fellow and a Future Leader in the Cardiovascular Disease Program, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University. Katrina completed her PhD in 2015 in Professor Kate Denton’s laboratory at Monash University. She was awarded a Monash Bridging Postdoctoral Fellowship and then obtained an overseas NHMRC CJ Martin Fellowship to continue her postdoctoral studies in Prof Jan Danser’s laboratory at Erasmus Medical Centre, The Netherlands. In December 2018, Katrina returned to Australia to establish her own research group within the Department of Physiology, Monash University.

Katrina’s research program focuses on the pathogenesis and therapy of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, with a special emphasis on the renin angiotensin system, sex-specific risk factors (complications of pregnancy, menopause) and cardio-oncology, which is an emerging field aimed at the prevention, management and mitigation of cardiovascular disease in cancer patients. She has received 6 invitations to present her work at international meetings and has published in top journals in her field including Nature Reviews Nephrology and Hypertension. Katrina has won several prestigious international prizes including the American Journal of Physiology: Renal Physiology Paper of the Year (2014), the American Heart Association Council on Hypertension Best Early Career Oral Award (2017) and was a Finalist for the inaugural American Heart Association Council on Hypertension Stephanie Watts Career Development Award (2018).

Katrina is committed to the advancement of cardiovascular disease research and plays an active role as an advocate for early career researchers as Co-Chair of the International Society of Hypertension New Investigator Committee and member of both the ACvA Emerging Leader and Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute Early Career Committees.


Niamh Chapman

Niamh Chapman completed a BSc (Hons) in biomedical sciences in Cardiff with a professional research training year at the Wales Heart Research Institute. In 2016, Niamh began her PhD at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Hobart, Tasmania under the supervision of Prof. James Sharman. Niamh’s research interests are focused on clinical cardiovascular health with a particular focus in new methods to improve health care delivery. Niamh’s PhD project has involved extensive collaboration with industry partners and healthcare stakeholders to develop, implement and evaluate a novel approach to the assessment of absolute cardiovascular disease risk within an active clinic environment.

Dr Rachel Climie

Dr Rachel Climie is a clinical Exercise Physiologist and Research Fellow at INSERM Paris Centre de Recherche Cardiovasculaire in France. Rachel completed her PhD at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research in Tasmania in 2016. Her research ranges from epidemiology to clinical research and is broadly focused on the association between hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Rachel is the Chair of the High Blood Research Council of Australia Young Investigator Committee, founding member of the European Artery Society Young Investigator Committee and a member of the ACVA Early to Mid Career Researcher Committee.


Dr Steven Wise

Dr Steven Wise is Leader of the Applied Materials Group the Heart Research Institute and Conjoint Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney. He completed a Bachelor of Science (Hons 1, University Medal, UWS 2001) followed by a PhD studying tropoelastin assembly and function with Prof Anthony Weiss (2006) at the University of Sydney. As a postdoc he trained with Interventional Cardiologist A/Prof Martin Ng, contributing to the founding of an interdisciplinary program to develop platform biomaterials for cardiovascular applications. He has now worked for >12 years in multi-disciplinary research specializing in materials engineering, blood compatibility and interactions with endothelial and smooth muscle cells before founding the Applied Materials Group at HRI in 2015. His work has a strong translational focus, placing a high premium on generating intellectual property to ensure his technology can be readily commercialised (3 awarded, 1 PCT, 2 provisional patents) and completing the NSW Medical Device Commercialisation Training Program (Ignition Health) in 2017. He publishes his work in journals at the interface of materials and medicine, highlighted by two recent studies published in JACC:Basic to Translational Science. His recent funding success (~$3M as CIA), including NHMRC project grant, NHMRC development grant and ARC Linkage demonstrate the quality of his research program and aligns with its goals of developing implants to improve patient lives. Steven is passionate about communicating the results of his work to a wide audience, giving regular presentations to the public and engaging often with the media.


Dr Emma Thomas

Emma Thomas is a Research Fellow within the Centre for Health Services Research at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Her current research focuses on using telehealth within the care and management of people with cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases to enhance self-management and reduce barriers to access.Emma completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne in the School of Population and Global Health as an NHMRC Postgraduate Scholar. Her thesis aimed to understand how the evidence-practice gap in cardiac rehabilitation can be reduced in Australian through enhanced monitoring and evaluation. Underpinning her work more broadly is an interest in scaling-up effective interventions, monitoring the quality of their delivery and ensuring equitable provision of health services. 

Emma has also worked across various other research groups including at the University of Oxford at a WHO Collaborating Centre focused on population approaches for non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention, the Non-Communicable Disease Unit at the University of Melbourne, and a Centre of Research Excellence in Aphasia Rehabilitation (University of Queensland