Professor Peter Thompson, cardiologist and Deputy Director of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, has called for a renewed focus on fundamental heart research during Heart Week.
Professor Thompson said that while WA has excellent clinical research into the treatment of heart disease, basic research into really understanding the causes of heart disease is very limited.
“We urgently need to understand heart disease better and tackle the basic causes with an intensive effort to reduce the toll from heart disease in our community,” Professor Thompson said.
“A focus on finding treatments for heart disease has produced dramatic results, for example if you had a heart attack 30 years ago your risk of dying in the first week was 13% and now the risk of dying from a heart attack in the first month is down to 4%.”
“But while treatments have improved, too many heart attacks and strokes are still occurring and we still don’t have answers to some fundamental questions about what causes heart disease – hence why it remains the biggest killer of both men and women.”
He said that high blood pressure is one area where a breakthrough in basic research is urgently needed.
“Clinical research is focused on working out the best treatment but a far better question is why does high blood pressure occur?”
He said there is a lot of research into treatment of cholesterol build-up but we need to discover much more about why cholesterol builds up in the first place.
Other critical questions are why do clots occur leading to heart attack and stroke and how do heart muscles become damaged leading to heart failure.
Professor Thompson said that each of these areas are potentially lethal and contribute to the high rate of heart disease deaths in our community.
“The fact that we don’t know these answers shows how little we really understand about what goes wrong with the heart.”
Each is waiting for a breakthrough moment that will radically change the understanding and the treatment and prevention of heart disease.
These major breakthroughs can only come from intensive research into discovering the basic mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases.
He said that the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research is focused on building a critical mass of expertise in heart disease here in WA to answer these questions.
“We need the continued support of the community to keep our best heart scientists and doctors here in WA if we want to ensure that we find the answers and at the same time have access to the latest clinical trials.