Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Jonathan Glenning

Hypertension Australia is excited to shine our Member Spotlight on Jonathan Glenning, an MD/PhD student at the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Jonathan’s innovative work is focused on increasing blood pressure screening in children and adolescents through initiatives like school-based screening programs and validating automated BP devices for accurate use in younger populations.

With a background in biomedicine and science from the University of Melbourne, Jonathan’s passion for pediatric hypertension research stemmed from an early interest in heart and kidney physiology. Now in his 4th year of PhD studies, he is dedicated to detecting and managing high blood pressure early in life to reduce long-term cardiovascular disease risk.

Jonathan’s impactful research has already earned him numerous accolades, including awards from the Australian Society for Medical Research, Hypertension Australia, and the University of Melbourne. In this Member Spotlight, learn more about Jonathan’s pioneering pediatric hypertension projects, collaborations aimed at creating a healthier start for Australian children, and his drive to promote lifelong healthy habits from an early age.

What inspired your interest in Hypertension?

It’s funny, I fell into the field by accident! As a second-year undergraduate student, I wanted to learn what a real lab experience was like rather than just what you learnt and experienced in the teaching laboratories. I was really interested in the physiology of the heart and kidneys, so I emailed people whose work I thought was interesting, though originally thinking about more basic lab research. Thankfully, I got an email back from the group I’m currently in, and I’ve been falling deeper and deeper into the hypertension rabbit hole ever since!

I am particularly interested in paediatric hypertension as there is so much opportunity to positively change the lives of so many globally. Compared with adult hypertension there has been far less research completed, but what has been done shows quite clearly that by reducing childhood hypertension, we can reduce adulthood cardiovascular disease. That is something I am really interested in pursuing further throughout my career. 

Tell us about your research or initiatives focused on preventing, detecting, and managing high blood pressure and its complications.

I am a PhD candidate with the Heart Research Group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne, and the Departments of Cardiology and Nephrology at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

In my PhD, I am investigating strategies to increase blood pressure screening in children and adolescents. My current research into this space includes; (1) running a world-first pilot school-based heart health education and blood pressure screening program; (2) a more targeted home blood pressure screening program with children at higher risk of hypertension; and (3) validating an automated BP device for accuracy in children and adolescents. Through this work, we have found that school screening is acceptable and feasible, sending BP machines home to families and having them return them after using them is easy and preferable, and that we can and need to find more devices that are accurate in children and adolescents.

My work has also been recognised through multiple awards, such as the 2023 Campion-Ma-Playoust award from the Australian Society for Medical Research, as well as awards from both Hypertension Australia and the University of Melbourne.

In addition to my independent research, I am collaborating on multiple other projects. As an example, I’m currently part of a small but growing team building a new initiative to create a healthier start in life for Australian children through both individual and systems-based interventions with the aim of reducing long term cardiovascular risk. While this includes reducing childhood hypertension, it is more focused on upstream factors such as poor diet, sedentary behaviours, and low sleep. I’m also helping to build greater collaboration and coordination by being an inaugural member of the steering committee of BPOzKids, a national network for paediatric blood pressure research in Australia. I’ve also had a long interest in the technology behind blood pressure measurement and have been involved in multiple studies looking at device validation in children and adolescents, as well as studies looking at exercising blood pressure and central blood pressure.

Finally, I’ve also been involved in a lot of consumer engagement through information sessions such as the MCRI Kidney Flagship’s Meet the Scientists Program in November 2023, or through MCRI social media posts explaining my research in accessible, easy to understand language. This, along with media reporting and other engagement programs have allowed me to increase awareness about the implications of paediatric hypertension, and to encourage everyone to know their numbers, ensure they exercise and have an active lifestyle, have a healthy diet and get enough sleep to improve their heart health.

I want to make measuring blood pressure in children best practice in Australia and encourage lifelong healthy habits in kids so they can live a happier and healthier life.

Have you received any awards, grants, or publications for your work related to Hypertension?

– 2023 Campion-Ma-Playoust Award from the Australian Society of Medical Research
– 2023 Student Poster Prize at the HBPRCA ASM
– 1st place in the Honours and Masters Oral Presentations Category at the Melbourne Children’s Campus Research Student’s Symposium

– Shepherd Foundation Philanthropic Grant for my School BP screening pilot program work (2021-2024)
– A Murdoch Children’s Research Institute top-up scholarship based on my work in the field up to that point (2021-2024)
– RTP Scholarship for my PhD based on the papers I had published up to that point as well as my undergraduate grades (2021-present)

– A few such as: Glenning JP, Lam K, Clarke MM, Bourne H, Smolich JJ, Cheung MMH, Mynard JP. Measurement of diastolic blood pressure with the auscultatory method in children and adolescents under exercise conditions. Hypertension Research 2021; 44: 1009-1016. Doi: 10.1038/s41440-021-00657-7.
– Various print, TV and radio media about my school blood pressure screening work reaching a combined audience of ~14 million people across Australia. Examples include:

  • Herald Sun: 6 June 2023 “Aorta check my heart”
  • Channels 7 and 10 News Bulletins 6 June 2023 “Pressure Test”
  • 3AW Breakfast 6 June 2023
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Social Media video 12 July 2023

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Outside of my research, I find creative expression through music, singing in semi-professional choirs across Melbourne. I also enjoy the physical pursuit of bouldering with friends as a hobby. An avid foodie, one of my travel dreams is to explore the diverse cuisines of Asia, a region I haven’t had the chance to visit yet. I’m eagerly awaiting my first trip to Japan later this year. In my down time, I’ve been entertained by the clever comedy gameshow Taskmaster, which I describe as a fantastic show.

Where can we find out more about your work with Hypertension?