Why fund heart research?
Cardiovascular disease (disease affecting the heart and blood vessels) is the single biggest killer in the Western World. There is an annual British Cardiovascular society conference, where leading researchers from across the world meet to discuss how to predict and prevent heart disease. The conference is supported by the British Heart Foundation, which spends 100 million pounds on heart research every year. Professor Peter Weissberg is the charity's Medical director...
Peter - We've done extraordinary well as a community for heart disease over the last 50 years. The British Heart Foundation's been around for just over 50 years and in that time there's been a phenomenal drop in mortality from coronary disease in particular, so there's a huge success story there. But the problem is is that we're left with a community that's ageing, with a lot of chronic disability, a lot of heart failure, patients surviving heart attacks who would have died from them previously but now survive with damaged hearts, so we have a lot of problems that are accumulating in the elderly population that we've still got to deal with.
Chris - And what is B.H.F. doing about that?
Peter - So our priorities now are to try to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease, particularly at a fundamental level. So most of our research money goes on basic scientific research to understand mechanisms, particularly at the moment, the mechanisms by which we might be able to regenerate the myocardium so that we can repair damaged hearts. If that were to occur then, of course, we could reverse the damage done by heart attacks and prevent the epidemic from heart failure which is accruing at the moment. If we can understand the fundamental biology of atherosclerosis properly then we can prevent and treat it better and, likewise, if we understand the molecular mechanisms of things like arrhythmia and congenital heart disease there's a chance of putting those right. So we're very much focussed on investment in the scientific basis of cardiovascular disease as a mechanisms for finding ways of treating it.