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Vascular Research Centre

Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease (CAD) results from build-up of cholesterol-rich plaques in the walls of the coronary arteries and is a leading cause of death. Inflammation is central to atherosclerosis.

A key driver of inflammation in plaque is accumulation of cholesterol-laden macrophages, called foam cells. Uncontrolled inflammation makes coronary plaques "unstable" and vulnerable to rupture, leading to thrombosis and myocardial infarction (MI). As multiple inflamed plaques often co-exist in the coronary system, patients are at risk of repeated atherothrombotic cardiovascular events after MI, with rates of 10-12% at one year, and 18-20% at three years. This is largely because current therapies for CAD, such as lipid-lowering statins, do not adequately control plaque inflammation. New anti-atherosclerotic agents are therefore needed, especially those that better target inflammation. 

The Psaltis group, based in the Heart Health Theme of SAHMRI, focuses on vascular inflammation, as we believe that this presents the greatest opportunity to impact on atherosclerosis and its sufferers. We study the developmental origins of macrophages and foam cells in healthy and diseased mammalian arteries (NHMRC GNT1086796, NHF FLF100412, RACP CDF), as well as their molecular regulation (NHMRC GNT1142794) and pharmacological targeting (NHMRC GNT1127159, NHF VG101370; VIERCI2017016) in atherosclerosis, across projects that span the full bench-to-bedside spectrum. In addition, we have discovered a population of self-renewing macrophage progenitor cells that reside in the adventitia (outer layer) of blood vessels and other tissues. Ongoing projects are exploring how these cells are involved in different pathophysiological processes such as atherosclerosis, wound healing, ischaemia and cancer.

Lead researcher: Dr Peter Psaltis (co-Director with Dr Christina Bursill)

Research team

  • Dr Nisha Schwarz (Post-doctoral Fellow)
Research support
  • Ms Thalia Skoumbourdis (Research Assistant)
  • Ms Catherine Dimasi (Research Assistant)
  • Ms Oanh Nguyen (Research Assistant)
  • Ms Sanuja Fernando (PhD candidate)
  • Ms Anna Williamson (PhD candidate)
  • Ms Sanuri Liyanage (Honours student)



  • Professor Stephen Nicholls, Heart Health Theme Leader, SAHMRI
  • Dr Christina Bursill, Co-director, Vascular Research Centre, SAHMRI
  • Professor Andrew Zannettino, Cancer Theme, SAHMRI
  • Professor Christopher Proud, Nutrition and Metabolism Theme, SAHMRI
  • Dr Hannah Keage, Department of Psychology, University of South Australia
  • Dr Mergen Ghayesh, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide

Interested in undertaking a postgraduate research degree with us?

We offer exciting opportunities for researchers at the honours, masters and PhD levels. Our research degrees are open to students from a broad range of backgrounds, and range from basic sciences to clinical research. If you are interested in human health, consider furthering your research career with us.