In three years at Victoria University Dr Anthony Zulli has established himself as the university's expert on cardiovascular disease research.
Based at the biomedical research labs of Sunshine Hospital, Dr Zulli is currently working on two long-term studies to reduce cardiovascular disease – the biggest killer of elderly Australians.
One study is looking at the ability of Mas receptors to restore normal blood vessel function and reduce disease.
"A lot of drugs for cardiovascular disease are already working indirectly via this receptor, so we want to understand exactly what these receptors are doing," Dr Zulli says.
A receptor is a protein that, once activated, will send a signal to a cell to do something.
Another study, which Dr Zulli presented at the Australian Vascular Biology Society conference in Sydney, is looking at which cells are recruited to blood vessel disease.
"If we can identify which cells are responsible for healing blood vessels, then we can look at converting a diseased blood vessel back to normal," he says.
Work is done by extracting stem cells from blood, adding markers and reintroducing them back into the blood stream to track where they end up.
Dr Zulli says regeneration of blood vessels would be a huge step towards longer, healthier lives.
"Keeping the vessels young will go a long way to helping people reach 100 years," he says.
Meanwhile, Dr Zulli is also looking at cardiovascular health, from a more preventative angle, through the advantages of the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet – heavy in seafood and vegetables – is high in taurine. Dr Zulli says most of us don't get enough taurine in our diet as we don't eat enough fish, and is looking at ways to introduce it into junk food to make it less harmful.
"You're not going to stop people eating junk food – because it's easy and it's tasty – but let's make it less harmful," he says.
Dr Zulli says taurine is cheap and non-toxic, while his initial studies showed adding taurine to junk food led to around a 60 per cent reduction in coronary artery diseases compared to junk food without taurine, with results published in a high-ranking journal established by the American Heart Association.