Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researcher Dr Holly Voges has received a prestigious Fellowship to explore how stem cells could help better understand and treat severe heart disease.

The National Heart Foundation announced Dr Voges as a recipient of its Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, which provides support for recent PhD graduates.

In addition, the Foundation named Dr Voges as one of the recipients of its Shirley E Freeman Innovation Award, awarded to the two most outstanding female Fellows.

holly vogesDr Voges’ project aims to use stem cells to better understand the role of the immune system in heart valve damage caused by rheumatic heart disease. She will explore disease mechanisms by using a new model of heart valve tissue that she has established from pluripotent human stem cells. These cells are produced in the laboratory from skin or blood cells that can be reprogrammed into any type of human cell.

Rheumatic heart disease affects 33 million people worldwide, most commonly in children in low- and middle-income countries. In Australia, the condition affects a disproportionate amount of people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by infections such as ‘strep throat' and scarlet fever, common in school-aged children, that trigger irreversible damage to heart valves and prevent the organ from functioning effectively.

“There is currently no treatment to repair these vital parts of the heart once it's damaged, so the only option for patients is valve replacement surgery,” Dr Voges said. “Therefore, we urgently need to better understand this disease and identify early treatment options for patients.”

Dr Voges hopes the research will help discover improved treatments to reverse valve tissue damage, identify more targeted therapies and improve the lives of people with rheumatic heart disease. 


This study is supported by the Heart Foundation (Application ID: 106645).