The British Heart Foundation believes that a new test could play a major role in successfully diagnosing people with inherited heart conditions.
It appears based on scientific research funded by the charity that assessing a specific group of genes enables researchers to reliably detect fundamental underlying difficulties.
This latest research follows on the back of the death of Miles Frost, son of Sir David Frost, who died suddenly from a condition thought to have been inherited from his father.
In response, the Frost family aims to raise £1.5 million to make genetic testing available in the UK.
Frost was suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when he collapsed while jogging.
This incident is far from being an uncommon one in Britain.
Indeed, although it is difficult to estimate this figure precisely, it is thought based on statistical analysis that inherited hard conditions affect over half a million people in the UK.
One of the aspects which makes diagnosis particularly difficult is the fact that numerous types of condition can affect the heart and circulatory system in the human body.
It is therefore hoped that this new form of genetic testing can identify who carries the faulty gene, enabling steps to be taken in order to reduce the risk of sudden death.
Surgery, medication and lifestyle changes can all have a significant impact on hereditary conditions.
Previous genetic tests looked at a small number of genes and were only able to identify specific conditions, leading to higher costs and longer diagnosis time; a major barrier to rolling the test out across the NHS.
But new research conducted at Imperial College London, in collaboration with the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, will enable scientists to identify defective genes more rapidly.
Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London has become the first trust in the UK to adopt the new test, and early indications are that it can have significant success in the field.
Already Royal Brompton and Harefield have tested 40 patients successfully, and there are now hopes that NHS trusts all over the UK will be able to benefit from this new technique.
Dr James Ware, a consultant cardiologist specialising in inherited heart conditions, commented that the genetic test is a significant breakthrough, and could have a massive impact on the treatment and diagnosis of hereditary heart conditions in the UK.
“Without a genetic test we often have to keep the whole family under regular surveillance for many years. This is hugely costly for both the families and the health system. By contrast, when a genetic test reveals the precise genetic abnormality causing the condition in one member of the family, it becomes simple to test other family members. Those who do not carry the faulty gene copy can be reassured and spared countless hospital visits.”
Findings from the research have been published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research.
A new study has seemingly identified a gene that puts women at a higher risk of heart disease.
The results of the study could have a significant influence on treating the deadly condition in the future.
Coronary heart disease results from blockages or interruptions to the heart’s supply due to fatty substances, and this has generally been attributed to behavioural reasons.
Factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes can increase the risk of suffering from heart disease.
The condition is one of the biggest killers in Britain, with NHS figures suggesting that heart disease is responsible for over 73,000 deaths annually.
With such an obvious incentive to tackle the problem, a team of researchers from University College London decided to investigate heart disease further.
In particular, scientists examined the relationship between heart disease and the female anatomy.
The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation, and involved the analysis of data from five separate European research projects.
Over 4,000 cases were involved in the report, with both male and female subjects assessed.
Researchers compared the participants’ genes, health of their blood vessels and the thickness of key arteries.
And by engaging in this process, the scientists ultimately found a version of a gene that was linked to a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and diseased blood vessels in women.
It is believed that this gene could be involved in the process of encouraging the mass migration of cells into blood vessel walls.
This process wouldn’t make them thicker, and thus increase the risk of blockages that ultimately lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Commenting on the important findings of this research, Freya Boardman-Pretty pointed out that it is important to understand this issue from a gender perspective.
“We’ve known for a long time that risk factors for heart disease are different for men and women. This gene effect seen only in women, could be contributing to this difference, although we expect there are a lot of other factors at play,” Boardman-Pretty commented.
Boardman-Pretty struck a hopeful note regarding the findings of the study.
“If we can confirm that this gene is involved, and work out exactly how it leads to an increased risk of heart disease in women, it could become a new target for drugs in the future.”
Speaking about heart disease, Shannon Amoils from the British Heart Foundation added: “It is imperative that everyone takes steps to prevent it. Women can reduce their risk by not smoking, getting regular physical exercise and eating healthily.”
Despite the undoubted threat that heart disease poses, the number of people dying from the condition has actually fallen significantly in the last few decades.
Since 1961, the number of people dying from cardiovascular related illnesses has fallen by more than half.
Yet there are still an estimated 7 million people in the UK currently living with cardiovascular disease.