More than 1 in 10 healthy volunteers who contributed to a major research project looking at preventing Scotland’s biggest killers – heart disease and stroke – have been found to have previously undetected or untreated health problems including high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
Early results from the TASCFORCE study, led by the University of Dundee, indicate that as many as 120 lives may already have been saved over the next ten years due to early identification of individuals at high risk of suffering heart disease or stroke.
Heart attack and stroke are still amongst the most common causes of serious illness and death in Scotland, despite major advances in preventive medicine.
The TASCFORCE study has just reached its target of 5000 volunteers recruited to the study. It is looking at which screening techniques used in studying the healthy volunteers are more effective in identifying people at risk of heart disease so that it can be prevented or treated at an early stage.
The study measured many of the ‘gold standard’ cardiovascular health assessments including:
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- body mass index
- family history of cardiovascular disease.
What has made the study unique has been the inclusion of two additional potential screening techniques – measuring a blood chemical called BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide) which indicates heart function, and full-body MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans.
Over 1,500 people have been offered an MRI scan as part of the study.
“This is the first time that anyone in Tayside and Fife without a history of heart disease could have a thorough heart health check on request,” said Professor Jill Belch.
“So far, the early results indicate that just over 12% of the healthy volunteers had previously undetected or untreated health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
“All of these participants received appropriate advice and have been referred to their GPs for further investigations and treatment. This is a large scale epidemiological study and therefore its full impact will not be known for over 10 years. But the early signs show that the early detection of higher risk individuals may have saved up to 120 lives over the next 10 years.
“We are encouraged at this stage that these additional tests could hopefully be helping improve health across Scotland and far beyond for many years to come, and we are very grateful to our funders: the Souter Foundation and Chest, Heart and Stroke, Scotland.”
The study team will assess the long-term cardiovascular health of the TASCFORCE volunteers, thereby allowing the assessment of which screening method or combination of methods is more effective in identifying people at risk of heart disease so that it can be prevented or treated at an early stage.
“This use of MRI scanning of ostensibly healthy volunteers to detect early heart and blood vessel problems is a world first,” said Graeme Houston, SINAPSE Professor of Clinical Imaging in the University of Dundee. “This new whole-body MRI scanner assessment of those that could be at risk of significant cardiovascular disease offers a unique way of detecting early problems, which is vital in being able to treat patients at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“I would also like to extend a personal thank you to the whole TASCFORCE team whose efforts have enabled the study to each its phenomenal target,” said Dr Roberta Littleford, Trial Manager. “The project would not have been possible without the fantastic support of the volunteers, many Tayside employers, hospital colleagues and GPs. May companies supported the project by allowing their staff time off to attend appointments. Not only did GPs support the recruitment process they arranged further investigations and started treatment if required.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
The project has full ethical approval and is sponsored by the University of Dundee. Professor Jill Belch, Professor of Vascular Medicine, The Institute of Cardiovascular Research (TICR) at the University of Dundee is the Chief Investigator.
Funders include The Souter Charitable Trust and Chest Heart & Stroke (Scotland).
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