6 things revealed at the world’s largest heart conference

September in Paris, you might think of sunny drinks and warm baguettes but this year scientists from across the globe met for the European Society of Cardiology Congress to present their most recent ground-breaking research in heart and circulatory diseases.

Our BHF-funded scientists were there to discuss game-changing findings in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Here’s what we learnt from them, and others in the field:

1. Damaged hearts could be mended with a special plaster…

Currently, there are no treatments available for heart failure. However, our researchers from Queen Mary University of London have developed a biodegradable plaster which could be a life-saver for thousands of people living with this debilitating condition.

The plaster acts like a delivery system for stem cells and growth factors, which help to stimulate the growth of new heart muscle cells and blood vessels, to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.

It’s been tested in rats and is now ready to be trialled in humans. The idea is that the plaster would be attached at the time of coronary bypass surgery after a heart attack or when treating coronary artery disease.

“This is a revolutionary development that could potentially be a game-changer in heart treatment.” — Dr Kazuya Kobayashi

2. Lifetime heart and circulatory disease risk could be slashed by 80 per cent…

Heart and circulatory diseases steal the lives of 168,000 people each year in the UK, but BHF-funded researchers from the University of Cambridge found that countless heart attacks and strokes could be prevented with a sustained drop in both ‘bad’ cholesterol and blood pressure.

They studied 438,952 people in the UK Biobank and found that a long-term reduction of 1 mmol/L LDL cholesterol in the blood with a 10 mmHg reduction in blood pressure led to an 80 per cent lower lifetime risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases, and a 67 per cent of death from these conditions.

“Even small reductions in both ‘bad’ cholesterol and blood pressure for sustained periods of time can pay very big health dividends, and dramatically reduce the lifetime risk.” — Professor Brian A Ference

Millions of people are living with untreated high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, both of which can be lowered with lifestyle changes and medication. But how many of us know our numbers for these, or have made sustained efforts to lower them? We can take our health into our own hands by getting these numbers measured.

3. You’ll be able to shop to your heart’s content, and also squeeze in a heart health check…

NHS England announced its plans for pharmacies to start offering free on-the-spot cholesterol and blood pressure testing, as well as mobile devices to detect irregular heart beats, all to cut deaths from silent killers. This was linked with the new ESC guidelines on prevention, which was presented at the conference.

If the pilot scheme is successful, it will be rolled out to every pharmacy in England within three years. This should help to ease the strain on hospitals and GP surgeries, and for more community based health care.

“Reaching more people and encouraging them to check their blood pressure, working with them to lower it where necessary, will play an absolutely critical role in saving lives in the coming years.

“Giving a greater role to community pharmacists in helping increase early detection of heart and circulatory diseases is a very welcome move that will help the NHS deliver its Long Term Plan commitment to prevent 100,000 heart attacks and strokes over the next 10 years.” — Simon Gillespie, our CEO

4. New artificial intelligence technology could provide advanced heart attack prediction…

Researchers we fund at the University of Oxford have developed a heart ‘fingerprint’ to identify people at high risk of a fatal heart attack at least 5 years before it strikes. The new technology could be used to tailor personalised treatment for those at high risk within the next year or two.

When someone goes to hospital with chest pain, a standard component of care is to have a coronary CT angiogram (CCTA). This checks for any narrowed of blocked segments and if there are none, people are sent home, yet some of them will still have a heart attack at some point in the future. There are no methods used routinely by doctors that can spot all of the underlying red flags for a future heart attack.

The ‘fingerprint’, developed using machine learning from CCTA scans, detects biological red flags in the perivascular space around blood vessels which supply blood to the heart. It identifies inflammation, scarring and growth of small blood vessels, which are all pointers to a future heart attack.

“Just because someone’s scan of their coronary artery shows there’s no narrowing, that does not mean they are safe from a heart attack. This has huge potential to detect the early signs of disease, and to be able to take all preventative steps before a heart attack strikes, ultimately saving lives.” — Professor Charalambos Antoniades

5. Heart attack blood test allows healthy patients to go home earlier…

Chest pain can have a number of different causes, and is thought to be responsible for around a million visits to UK A&E departments each year. But one life-threatening condition we need to be able to rule-out or diagnose is a heart attack.

Results from the HiSTORIC clinical trial, that we fund, show that a heart attack blood test provides a rule-out pathway to reduce the length of stay and hospital admissions without increasing adverse heart events.

The blood test is already used by hospitals to diagnose heart attacks and works by measuring the blood levels of a protein, called troponin, released from the heart during a heart attack.

“This is good news for patients, who we can reassure and send home earlier, and it’ll also save hospital resources. Clinical guidelines may well change as a result of this study.” — Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director

6. Twice-a-year injection could replace daily statins…

A new gene silencing drug could be a game-changer for people with high cholesterol, according to scientists who also presented at the conference.

Injection of the new drug, called inclisiran, reduced cholesterol levels by around 50 per cent in people also taking a maximum dose of a statin. The number of heart attacks and strokes also decreased in people taking the drug.

Inclisiran is one of the first of a completely new class of medicines that can block production of specific molecules for many months. Instead of being taken in pill form they are given to patients as a single injection under the skin. Longer-term trials are now needed to confirm sustained clinical benefit and to confirm safety, but these results are very encouraging.

“As it’s injected twice a year, some patients may prefer to have this treatment rather than taking a pill every day. More work is needed to prove the long-term safety of the drug, but this could provide a significant advance in preventing heart and circulatory disease.” — Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, our Medical Director

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