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Have the heart to fight killer disease; Mel Hunter reports on a major scheme to pinpoint the genes which contribute to coronary heart disease.

Byline: Mel Hunter

Smoking, a lard-filled diet and a couch-potato exercise regime are the most commonly cited causes of heart disease.

While they are hugely important - and are without doubt the leading 'preventable' causes of coronary problems - there is another factor which overshadows them all.

Having a history of heart disease in your family is the single biggest indicator that you may be affected by Britain's biggest killer yourself.

People who have at least one close family member with coronary heart disease are four times more likely to develop similar problems themselves. One in two patients with heart disease will have another family member affected.

Now the biggest heart study ever is calling on people in the West Midlands to help pinpoint the genes which contribute to coronary heart disease.

The British Heart Foundation Family Heart Study - the largest project of its kind in the world - is appealing for local families who have a history of heart disease to take part in the pioneering research.

Through the pounds 2.5 million study, the BHF aims to recruit more than 2,000 families across the UK who are willing to donate a blood sample to the project to help identify the condition.

DNA collected from those who volunteer will be held in an anonymous gene library and made available to heart researchers across the UK. It will enable researchers to compare gene maps across family groups and, as a result, identify and isolate the problem genes.

The project's leader, Professor Nilesh Samani, of the University of Leicester, says that within two years he will have results which could help cut the number of coronary heart disease sufferers in future generations.

He says: 'We need more families from the West Midlands. There is a very high level of heart disease in the region and we need people to come forward. Those who come forward know they are helping the next generation rather than themselves.'

Mr Mike Gammage, head of the University of Birmingham's department of cardiovascular medicine and a consultant cardiologist at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, says: 'We have a lot of patients who have something to gain from this study. The majority of patients we see have a family history of heart disease.

'I think the study can make a real contribution to identifying the people we should be focusing on. In the long term, by identifying the genes we may be able to come up with effective treatments.'

'What we ask is that if you know of anybody who has heart disease please ask them to phone the helpline and enable us to make this a successful study.'

One of the 800 families who have already become involved with the study are Denzil Lewis, from Kingswinford, and his sister Pam Roberts.

Denzil was watching rugby at home when when he suffered a heart attack aged 56. He thought he had severe indigestion and was not prepared for the diagnosis of a heart attack, the ten days in intensive care and the five months he spent off work.

Within a few years his sister began suffering with angina. Three years later she had surgery to widen her arteries and three years after that, at the age of 65, she underwent a quadruple heart bypass.

At the time, the siblings were at a loss to understand why they had both suffered with heart disease. Both were keen sports enthusiasts, didn't eat junk food, didn't smoke and drank only moderately.

Then Pam looked at their family history and discovered that not only had their mother died from heart disease, but so had six of her seven siblings. Out of the 18 cousins on their mother's side, nine have suffered heart problems.

Suddenly it all made sense, but it also meant that Denzil and Pam's children and grandchildren were also at risk - hence the reason they are involved with the research.

The BHF is looking for siblings who have suffered from heart disease before the age of 65. To get involved phone a BHF nurse on the Freephone number 0800 052 7154. You will be asked to fill in a questionnaire and provide a single blood sample, which will be taken at your GP's surgery, and will be used to examine the DNA.
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 24, 2001
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