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Q&A with Dr Dean Picone
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Q&A with Dr Dean Picone

Dr Dean Picone is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. Dr Picone received a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2020.

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer. High blood pressure is a common risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke. Dr Picone is developing a smarter way to measure blood pressure, to save lives and prevent unnecessary treatment.

What are you currently researching?

Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because you can have high blood pressure without knowing about it – there usually aren’t any signs or symptoms. Having your blood pressure checked regularly is important, and is part of a having a Heart Health Check.

However, blood pressure has been measured in the same way for over 100 years, and the method may still be  inaccurate for some people. This can mean that some people don’t receive the treatment they need, or their treatment might not be optimal. This research project seeks to address this problem by developing a more accurate way to measure blood pressure using modern statistical techniques, (sometimes called machine learning) which is a type of artificial intelligence.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

The aim of this research is to improve the way blood pressure is measured, which will lead to better management of high blood pressure for Australians. The ultimate aim of this project is to prevent avoidable cardiovascular events and improve health outcomes for Australians.

What motivated you to do your research?

There are several factors motivating me to do this research. First, I have always been interested in how the human body works. Second, numerous friends and family have been touched by or live with cardiovascular disease. Third, I strongly believe in this project and the potential it has to reduce the number of Australians affected by cardiovascular disease. By identifying and treating high blood pressure early, this can reduce the number of Australians and their families experiencing the devastating impact of heart attack and stroke.  

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

In 2013 I received a local Honours Scholarship that was funded jointly by the Heart Foundation and Menzies Institute. This funding allowed me to undertake a year of research with the blood pressure research group and since then I’ve never looked back.

My current project is a natural progression of my PhD research, where I studied the causes of inaccurate blood pressure measurement. I have a strong desire to take the next step and now find a solution to the problem.  The funding from the Heart Foundation is invaluable in helping me to do that. Heart Foundation funding also means I am able to focus my time exclusively on the research project instead of other tasks like teaching or funding applications. That means the research can progress rapidly, and there is more time for generating new ideas. Hopefully, this will mean we can identify and treat more people with high blood pressure, which will in turn reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease in Australia.  

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