Reporter 461, 12 February 2001
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The British Heart Foundation Family Heart Study
What is the BHF Family Heart Study?
- The FHS is a ground-breaking research project that aims to pinpoint the rogue genes which contribute to coronary heart disease
- It is the largest project of its kind world-wide, in support of which the BHF has awarded £2.5 million.
- The pioneering new study is being led jointly jointly by heart specialists at Leeds and Leicester Universities with the support of doctors throughout Great Britain
Why is there a Family Heart Study?
- One in two patients with heart disease will have another family member affected. The project aims to investigate the importance of inherited genes in the development of both angina and heart attacks
- By isolating these ‘family genes’ - which make some people more likely to have heart problems - in the future doctors will be able to develop new strategies for the prevention and treatment of heart disease
- The project needs 2000 families with members who have experienced heart disease at a young age (under 65 years)
- DNA collected from participants will be held in an anonymised gene library and made available to help heart researchers throughout the UK
- It will enable researchers to compare gene maps across family groups and as a result identify and isolate the problem genes
- Researchers hope that a clearer understanding of the genetic factors of heart diseases will help eradicate the condition in the future
How can people get involved with the BHF Family Heart Study?
- We need to identify pairs of brothers and sisters where either one has suffered any of the following before the age of 65 - participants can be over the age of 65 but must have suffered with the following heart problems before that age
- Heart Attack
- Hospital admission with angina
- Coronary balloon angioplasty
- Coronary bypass surgery
People can get involved with the project by calling Freephone 0800 052 7154
What happens once you get involved?
- In order to study the genes that cause heart disease researchers will need to study DNA which is obtained from blood samples
- If you decide to take part, the process is fairly simple you will need to fill in a short questionnaire and provide a blood sample, which can be taken at your GP surgery
Why is it important for people to get involved?
- Although The Family Heart Study is a long-term project, those involved will be making an important contribution to heart disease research and more importantly helping to safeguard the health of future generations of their own family
- Carrying out painstaking detective work on blood samples taken from brothers and sisters who have heart problems, will greatly help in the search for the shared ‘rogue genes’, , that cause premature coronary heart disease.
- Having pinpointed the genes which contribute to coronary problems, scientists will gain an improved understanding that will permit development of new drugs specifically designed to combat heart disease,
- In the new millenium coronary artery disease is replacing infectious disease as the main cause of death and disability world-wide. Heart and circulatory disease is the UK’s biggest killer which currently causes 250,000 deaths every year in the UK. The resulting healthcare costs are therefore significant. Research into better prevention and cures is vital and will have a significant implications on people’s lives in the future
- By helping with this research, members of the Great British public have the unique opportunity to lead the world in a key area of public concern.
If heart disease is caused by genetic factors does this mean that there is nothing that people can do themselves to avoid heart disease?
- Our genes define our identity and essentially they cannot be changed, however the effects of abnormal genes can often be limited by simple measures. Although our genes increase the risk of a heart attack, this can be neutralised by a healthy life style, tablets to lower cholesterol or blood pressure or other commonly used treatments. However, there is a great deal still to be learned about the genes that either predispose us to, or protect us from, heart attacks.
- Many thousands of people die every year from avoidable heart disease. Consequently, aach and every person should take important and simple steps to ensure that they have a healthy heart. The British Heart Foundation recommends regular exercise, a healthy diet including at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as well as avoiding fried foods, smoking and excessive drinking.
- The number of people dying of heart disease is much greater in the UK than in many other European countries and also higher in the north than in the south of the UK
- In addition there is an increase in early heart disease associated with financial / social deprivation
- People who have a heart attack at a young age often have a close relative similarly affected. This may in part result from shared bad habits such as smoking, but it is also strongly influenced by common genes.
- A pilot study looking at the feasibility of this research started in 1997 in Yorkshire and the Midlands where 1,000 families have already volunteered to help. Now with major BHF funding, this important study is being extended to include volunteer families throughout Great Britain.
For more information, case studies or interviews about the BHF Family Heart Study please contact Jessica Rowntree or Sophi Nauman at GBC Consumer on 0208 322 1922 or email
Jessicar@gbc.co.uk or email@example.com