We have made great strides in the fight against heart disease over the past 50 years. Since 1961, when the British Heart Foundation was established, the annual number of deaths from CVD in the UK has fallen by half. This reduction can be largely attributed to the ground breaking research that has taken place in the UK and overseas, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.
A recent example of the progress we have made is the massive improvement in the outcome of heart attacks. In the 1960s more than seven out of ten heart attacks in the UK were fatal.
Today at least seven out of ten people survive. This increase in survival is largely due to earlier, more accurate diagnosis, leading to more efficient and effective treatment, which has been made possibly by the troponin test. This blood test is used to detect a protein released by the heart during injury and is now recommended in clinical practice.
The British Heart Foundation continues to fund pioneering research that aims to improve the way that the troponin test works, and ensure that it has a high enough sensitivity to detect very low levels of troponin which can still be indicative of a heart attack.
BHF-funded researchers in Edinburgh have already shown that a higher sensitivity test could rule out a heart attack in two thirds of people arriving at A&E with chest pain, and that the test could even be used to identify people at risk of suffering a heart attack in the future.
We are also making great progress in basic science, the fundamental starting point for all breakthroughs in medicine. Recently, BHF-funded researchers in Cambridge created blood vessel tissues in a petri dish which mimic Marfan syndrome in human arteries. It is estimated that 13,000 people in the UK have Marfan syndrome, which can cause life-threatening thoracic aortic aneurysms. This pioneering science will allow researchers to use the lab-generated vessel cells to test drugs for people with Marfan syndrome.
Our understanding of the genes responsible for heart conditions which are passed down in families is reshaping the way that we diagnose and treat inherited heart conditions. This new knowledge has enabled people at risk of sudden death to be identified and treated to prevent such tragic events. BHF Professor Hugh Watkins, a clinical cardiologist and laboratory scientist in Oxford, has led research which has given us the tools to find people with an inherited condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) through genetic testing programmes.
With all the successes in recent years, we must not get complacent. Coronary heart disease is still the UK’s single biggest killer. More than seven million people in the UK are living with cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for more than a quarter of all deaths. The British Heart Foundation is currently providing £100 million in support of new cardiovascular research projects each year, which will yield results that will allow us to take further strides in the diagnosis treatment and care of heart patients, over the next 50 years.