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Month May 2011

Regenerative potential of the young mouse heart

Certain fish (zebrafish) and amphibians have been known to have the capacity for cardiac regeneration throughout life. However, it is not the same case for the adult mammalian heart.

Recently the BHF have been talking a lot about the regenerative capacity of zebrafish and have made a huge new initiative to study how the zebrafish achieves its heart regenerative capacity.

However, a new study in the journal Science from the University of Texas South-western Medical Center has brought the issue a little closer to home. They have shown that young mice not older than 7 days old are able to regenerate sections of their hearts after damage.

This regenerative process was proven to be different from the usual repair process of the heart after it has become damaged i.e. that the heart could repair itself fully and not have impaired function.

Thus, it seems that for a brief period after birth, mammalian heart has the capacity to regenerate.

This is a wonderful finding and hopefully future research may be able to determine how the young heart keeps its regenerative ability after birth. Ideally future research would extend into understanding how we may be able to therapeutically manipulate damaged hearts, allowing them to regenerate after cardiac injury.

This research could open a completely new avenue for patients who have suffered heart attacks (also known as myocardial infarctions) and other damage to the heart to recover better after these cardiac events.

To read more about Zebrafish at the BHF

To read more about the young mouse heart SCIENCE

Top 5 tips for keeping your heart healthy

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It doesn’t have to be and here are some helpful ways to help keep your heart healthy:

1. Stop smoking! By far one of the best things anyone can do to live longer. If you are a smoker you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than a non-smoker. Time is of the essence as it takes years for your heart and lungs to recover after extended periods of smoking. So it can never be too soon to stop! With the new public smoking bans and the ever increasing cigarette and tobacco prices when would there be a better time to quit?

2. Watch your diet. A healthy diet can go a long way to ensuring the health of your heart. Not only this but you are much more likely to survive a heart attack if you have been eating healthily. Try to avoid processed foods and those with large amounts of saturated fats and salts. Keep to fresh fruit and vegetables with your balanced diet. Try and substitute red meats for fish and last but not least try and reduce foods like biscuits, pastries, cakes and dairy products with high saturated fat and sugar levels.

3. Exercise moderately. The heart pumps blood around the body and needs exercise to keep itself fit. A moderate 30 minutes of exercise a day is great for your heart. However, this can be daunting if you are just starting out, build up gradually and enjoy the rewards of keeping your heart fitter. If this isn’t encouragement enough, exercise has been shown to improve mental wellbeing too. So not only will your heart be happy but you will too!

4. Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol can damage heart tissue if you drink too much. It is suggested not to drink more than 1-2 units per day. Not only this but heavy drinking can lead to weight gain, whilst binge drinking will significantly raise the chance of having a heart attack.

5. Recognise the symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD). This can present as tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arm or stomach, which may come with exercise and go when you are at rest. These can be the first signs of angina, which may lead to a heart attack if left untreated.

Wii manage congestive heart failure (CHF)

An unusual way of aiding care for CHF patients has been devised by a group from Johns Hopkins University. The care involves patients using a Wii gaming console with a Home Automated Telemanagement (HAT) system.

The system questions patients to monitor symptoms, weight changes and quality of life whilst educating about their condition. All the system needs is the Nintendo Wii console with an active Internet connection.

The system has been designed to be as user friendly as possible allowing patients with very basic knowledge of computer gaming consoles to use the HAT system.

After the system has asked questions about the patient’s condition it issues an action plan zone to the patient advising them of what to do to maintain this zone. This comes in the form of advice on living healthily and reminding patients to take their medications correctly.

The hope with this technology is to aid physicians to get feedback from reluctant patients on their current condition and to get more frequent day-to-day feedback. It is emphasized that physician visits would still be important for patient care.

The system is primarily designed to allow the patient to monitor their health frequently whilst educating them about their condition with the intention of increasing condition awareness and quality of life.

The system has not as yet undergone clinical trials to establish how effective it is. However, can a system that allows patients to learn and give feedback to health care professionals more often be a bad device? The main question that springs to mind is the cost barrier of giving/getting these systems to patients and whether or not they would use the system regularly enough to fulfill its purpose.

The full article can be found at ieeexplore.ieee.org

A healthy heart starts at home

Two key ways of keeping your heart in shape are to exercise regularly and control your weight. However, the food you eat matters just as much. Eating healthily is thought to reduce your risk of having heart disease or a stroke by 80%. As heart disease is so prevalent what better way to avoid it?

Understanding how your food choices can have an impact on the health of your heart and can help prevent and manage heart disease and high blood pressure.

Heart disease may be the leading killer of men and women, but simple lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of this disease. A key aspect of living a healthy lifestyle is eating the right things and reducing the amount of wrong things.

So where to begin? Well there is no need to agonise over every little thing you eat, but you should try to alter your overall eating pattern to incorporate more healthy ingredients into your meals. This may mean substituting out those that are not so good for your health. Make this a habit and your new lifestyle.

World Health Organisation (WHO) classify chronic diseases as the biggest killers

A new report by the WHO has shown that the chronic health problems associated with post-industrial societies have spread to the developing world. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are now thought to cause more deaths worldwide then any other diseases combined.

The report identified that these diseases are all preventable and that the major risk factors for disease were smoking, poor diet, alcohol use and insufficient physical activity. The report goes on to predict that by 2020 even the African countries will suffer more death through chronic disease than other transmissible diseases and poverty-related issues. The report concluded that a 15% increase in mortality from chronic diseases is expected worldwide in the next decade.

This 15% increase may be observed as the developing world closes the gap on the ‘developed world’ in terms of life expectancy leading to an increased risk in people suffering chronic disease. However this increase will still provide another major hurdle to worldwide health.

The report goes on to examine the economic cost of these chronic conditions. It estimates that 100 million people are driven into poverty every year by health care costs. There is a fair amount of worry about the cost that these diseases will bring to the world economy and respective health care systems in the future.

It seems as the world has started to overcome transmissible disease a new impending health crisis is looming with increased chronic disease prevalence with an ever increasingly ageing population. This report highlights the importance of research and education to help prevention of chronic disease at the primary level. Especially the most prevalent which are cardiovascular diseases and illnesses.

The WHO Global Forum is planning a follow-up report in 2013.

Teach our children to become lifesavers

Sign the petition at the BHF to persuade politicians in the United Kingdom to add ELS skills to the National Curriculum to be taught in schools!

What are ELS skills I hear you ask? I’m glad you asked, ELS stands for Emergency Life Support skills. These skills will enable young people to help others in varying medical emergencies.

An incredibly important ELS skill is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). About 30,000 people each year in the United Kingdom will have a cardiac arrest and members of the public see roughly half of these. However, only 1 in 10 of these people will survive to be discharged from hospital after their arrest. If more people knew how to administer CPR, more people would leave the hospital alive after suffering a cardiac arrest.

How much time would it take to teach our children ELS? A tiny two hours a year is all that is needed to teach this subject that could be incorporated into existing subjects like P.E or Science. It’s incredibly simple to learn too!

For more information and to sign the petition for ELS skills to be taught in the classroom: BHF.

Screening for cardiovascular disease by age alone?

Researchers have insinuated that predicating heart and circulatory disease events could be best done purely on the basis of age, and that all older members of the population should be offered preventative treatments.

The study published on the 4th of May by Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry suggests that predicting cardiovascular events in those over 55 is as good as using the current Framingham screening system, which involves testing for other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease i.e. blood pressure and high cholesterol.

This study has lead to controversy with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) offering a viewpoint on the study. It is pointed out that using only age, as a predictive factor for cardiovascular disease would miss those at risk in younger age groups. These are patients who may have a family history of heart or circulatory disease and are for this reason more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease themselves.

This view is followed up with the statement that those with other risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure at the age of 40-55 could be treated to prevent heart and circulatory disease before it takes place. This would also make economic sense for the National Health Service (NHS). This point is strengthened by the lack of evidence to suggest that everyone of a certain age should be offered treatment such as statins.

Study published in the Journal PLoS ONE

Another reason why frequent exercise is so important for heart health

New research has highlighted the protective effect of exercise on the heart via a chemical called Nitric Oxide and the enzyme that produces it eNOS.

It is known that exercise reduces the risk of heart attack and protects the heart to an extent from heart injury if a heart attack does occur. It has been a major aim for doctors to understand how this second method of protection works, and how it may help protect the heart after heart attacks occur.

Researchers at Emory University may have gone some way to identifying an important part to the puzzle. The group have identified that the heart has the ability to produce and to an extent store Nitric Oxide during exercise.

Nitric oxide has the ability to relax blood vessels, increase blood flow and critically help the heart tissue better survive heart attacks. This would mean that during exercise your body will build up Nitric Oxide stores that can be later used when the body needs it.

However, the study found that the effects of exercise are not long lived. Mice were allowed to voluntarily exercise on exercise wheels for four weeks. The mice were then given heart attacks. Those mice that had been voluntarily exercising for the four weeks leading up to the heart attack had less severe heart attacks.

Unfortunately this cardio protective effect was shown to be short-lived.  If the wheel was taken away from the mice that had been exercising for four weeks the beneficial effect seemed to be lost after a week of non-exercise. This evidence highlights the need for regular moderate exercise as a good way of reducing the risk of heart attack and it’s severity if it does occur.

Full article at Circulation Research.

Putting Cardiovascular Disease into Perspective

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease are the terms used to commonly describe diseases that involves the heart or blood vessels (arteries and veins).

These diseases commonly fall into the categories of coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and stroke.

Most developed countries face high and ever increasing rates of cardiovascular illness. Each year heart disease kills more Americans than even cancer.

In recent years cardiovascular disease has been increasing in women and has killed more women than breast cancer. This is an important point as there is a common misconception that heart disease only affects men, whereas in actuality it affects nearly as many women as men.

In the case of vascular disease large histological studies have determined that vascular injury accumulates from adolescence making preventative efforts from childhood necessary. By the time that heart disease is detected, the underlying cause (atherosclerosis) is often quite advanced having progressed for decades.

Therefore a huge emphasis is put on preventing atherosclerosis by modifying risk factors, which can be achieved through healthy eating, exercise and the avoidance of smoking i.e. living a healthy lifestyle.

This however does not account for all disease. As certain heart diseases are genetic and members of the population may be at a far higher risk of suffering from these cardiovascular diseases. Emphasising the need for early detection and treatment of certain cardiovascular disorders.

For more Information about preventing heart disease: BHF, WHO & patient.co.uk