Alta Schutte

Alta Schutte honoured with NHMRC Research Excellence Award

Professor Alta Schutte has been recognised at the 2024 NHMRC Research Excellence Awards for her work to improve hypertension treatment in Australia. 

Professor Alta Schutte from The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW Medicine & Health has been honoured at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Excellence Awards held in Canberra at the end of March.

Prof. Schutte received the Fiona Stanley Award for submitting the top-ranked NHMRC Synergy Grant in 2023 - her application was ranked highest by NHMRC experts in the peer review process that determines who will receive grants.

“Embarking on a rewarding career dedicated to blood pressure research and taking on the challenge to relocate from South Africa to Australia four years ago, it is truly humbling to receive recognition from the NHMRC and my colleagues through the Fiona Stanley Synergy Grant,” said Prof. Schutte, who was inspired by witnessing the impact of heart conditions on her own family.  

Prof. Schutte has since become one of Australia’s leading researchers in heart disease.

“I was confronted with heart disease very early on. My father only knew his father for two years, and at six I thought I was farewelling my 38-year-old father at his hospital bed. Fortunately, by this time - the late 80s - medicine pulled him through,” Prof. Schutte said. 

Interim Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health Professor Adrienne Torda congratulated Prof. Schutte on the award.

“Alta's dedication to understanding the complexities of high blood pressure and her commitment to finding innovative solutions is outstanding. She has made invaluable contributions to cardiovascular health globally, making her a true leader in this field.”

Prof. Schutte said there are a range of effective and affordable medicines that can prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering high blood pressure - yet raised blood pressure is the leading risk factor for preventable death in the world. 

“I am extremely disappointed that in Australia, a country with one of the best health systems in the world, only 32 per cent of adults with high blood pressure are being treated appropriately. 

“I have spent decades understanding the causes of high blood pressure. The contributions of age, sex, socio-economic status, diet, salt, and related physiological mechanisms are certainly important. But in recent years I have shifted my focus towards health system solutions to prevent, detect and treat high blood pressure much more effectively.

“I wonder how we can encourage people from young ages to be open to screening and to act when something is wrong? It is hugely more effective to detect high blood pressure early in life and to start acting by lifestyle changes or medication, without losing quality of life – than to be struck by a sudden unfortunate event such as a heart attack or stroke.”

Investigating cracks in the healthcare system, the cost of healthcare and how to get people to take ownership of their health, are issues Prof. Schutte now reviews as part of the Synergy grant. She is working closely with co-investigator Professor Anthony Rodgers at The George Institute for Global Health, and an expanded team of behavioural scientists, health economists and implementation scientists, in her mission.

Prof. Schutte was appointed Co-Chair of the National Hypertension Taskforce of Australia in 2022, and recognised in 2023 as the Leading Researcher in Vascular Medicine by The Australian newspaper. 

“Overall, I am very fortunate to have collaborated with hundreds of experts from different disciplines and across the world. I hope that early- and mid-career researchers understand the importance of networking in a very open and inclusive fashion from day one. We cannot solve big problems in isolation and need various and sometimes mind-blowing perspectives to send us in novel directions.”

Prof. Schutte’s top-ranked 2023 Synergy Grant Award sees her receive $5 million over five years for a project that aims to improve hypertension treatment in Australia.

Alta Schutte

Her team will undertake several trials related to how hypertension is treated, and will closely test interventions on their cost-effectiveness, suitability for both healthcare providers and patients, and their potential to be rolled out across the country. The first trial will focus on medication dispensing durations, to determine whether lengthier dispensing durations will improve medication adherence and whether it is safe and cost-effective.  

Prof. Schutte was appointed Co-Chair of the National Hypertension Taskforce of Australia in 2022 and recognised in 2023 as the Leading Researcher in Vascular Medicine by The Australian. She also received the 2022 Harriet Dustan Award from the American Heart Association and the 2023 Peter Sleight Excellence award from the World Hypertension League. 

Photo: UNSW