PATIENTS with heart disease could start treatment before they even develop symptoms as a result of research taking place in Scotland to help identify early warnings of illnesses.
Researchers at Glasgow University are part of a £5 million project which is bringing together experts from across Europe to identify body changes which signal the first stages of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
Once these changes have been identified the researchers hope to be able to develop drugs which target the needs of individual patients – so-called personalised medicine.
Health campaigners said the work could be an exciting development in personalised care and tackling a leading cause of death and ill health.
CVD is the biggest killer in the Western world, but despite this the individual causes of the different illnesses remain largely unknown. Working with colleagues in ten different countries, the Glasgow team hope to identify the changes in the body that will act as the early warning signs of CVD.
This will involve closely examining the proteins expressed by different genes and identifying changes in these which are specific to a particular disease – a field of study known as proteomics. The researchers hope identifying a range of these biological markers could lead to treatments tailored to a patient’s body.
Dr Christian Delles, from the university’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said targeting CVD early was vital as substantial damage could be caused before a patient’s symptoms occur.
“The problem with cardiovascular disease is that it often develops unnoticed over years before becoming a serious problem,” he said. “We all know that smoking, over-consumption of alcohol and a high-fat diet can increase the risk of developing CVD but we know very little about the earliest stages of the disease which are, in part, reversible.
“At present drug-based interventions are based on risk-factor control. For example through reducing existing high blood pressure or using statins to reduce blood cholesterol.
“However, if we can identify early signs or biomarkers of the disease before symptoms arise, we have the opportunity to develop interventions to stop disease before it becomes a problem.”
Glasgow will get £557,000 for its part in the four-year study, called SysVasc – Systems Biology to Identify Molecular Targets for Vascular Disease Treatment. The work involves 30 leading scientists examining thousands of samples and data sets. While it could be several years before tests and treatments are ready for use in patients, Dr Delles said the project gave researchers the funding needed to do the vital groundwork.
David Clark, chief executive of charity Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, said: “Early detection of cardiovascular disease and preventive treatment has the potential not only to save patients and families from the devastating effects of heart attacks and strokes, but also to save the NHS very substantial sums in avoiding expensive treatments for these conditions.”