Appeal to mend broken hearts

Female physician in lab coat and mask isolated on white
Female physician in lab coat and mask isolated on white

ADVANCES in medicine and better systems to ensure faster emergency care mean that more people now survive a heart attack.

But that, together with an ageing population generally, means that more people live on with the long-term debilitatitng effects of heart failure. Now a major new research programme has been launched by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to find a cure which could help thousands of people in Lancashire.

The burden of debilitating heart failure has risen relentlessly since the 1960s. The condition, which is often caused by damage to the heart during a heart attack, means the heart can no longer pump properly. It is one of the UK’s leading causes of disability, with some patients housebound and fighting for breath, making getting out of bed or eating a meal incredibly difficult.

The number of people in Lancashire actually dying of heart disease – which includes heart attacks – has fallen from 7,657 in 1994 to 3,876 in 2008. For Ribble Valley alone, that figure fell from 185 in 1994 to 98 in 2008.

Part of the reason has been the rise of Community First Responder schemes and the Air Ambulance, which both mean that even in remote rural locations, a heart attack victim can be treated with a defibrillator inside the first hour after an attack – known as the golden hour. This dramatically improves the patient’s chance of survival, but the heart can still suffer damage, leading to serious health problems.

To combat this, the BHF has unveiled a major new programme of research in regenerative medicine to find a cure. The “Mending Broken Hearts” project will involve stem cell research and developmental biology to work out how to repair or replace damaged heart muscle to literally mend broken hearts in as little as 10 years’ time.

Part of the inspiration for the research programme is that regeneration already occurs in nature. Some animals, such as zebrafish, can regrow portions of their own hearts. Research may be able to make this possible in people too.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, said: “Since the BHF’s inception 50 years ago, we’ve made great strides in medical research to better diagnose and treat people with all kinds of heart problems. But the biggest issue that still eludes us is how to help people once their heart has been damaged by a heart attack.

“Scientifically, mending human hearts is an achievable goal and we really could make recovering from a heart attack as simple as getting over a broken leg. But we need to spend £50m to make this a reality, and currently the resources and investment we need are simply not available.”

To fund the programme, the charity is encouraging people across Lancashire to support its Mending Broken Hearts Appeal. The five-year fund-raising campaign is the charity’s most ambitious to date, and coincides with the BHF’s 50th anniversary.

A high-profile integrated marketing campaign encouraging people to support the appeal began this week. The materials feature a woman with heart failure as she finds hope by watching zebrafish in an aquarium.

The BHF is now urging the public to support its Mending Broken Hearts Appeal.

Call 0300 333 0333 or visit www.bhf.org.uk/mbh to order an appeal pack with all the information and resources needed to start supporting the campaign.