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EU-funded cardiovascular research keeps on ticking for World Heart Day

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On 29 September World Heart Day will be celebrated around the world to highlight that heart disease and strokes remain the world's leading cause of death, claiming over 1.5 million deaths every year in the EU. And amid an ageing population this trend is only set to get worse with diseases of the heart and circulatory system, or cardiovascular diseases, projected to remain a huge strain on human health for the foreseeable future. Not to mention the strain these conditions put on heath systems - it is estimated that cardiovascular disease in the EU costs EUR 169 billion annually.

Launched in 2000 as an initiative of the World Heart Federation, a nongovernmental organisation based in Switzerland, ever since, World Heart Day has been an opportunity for heart foundations and cardiology specialists to raise awareness about their work.

And at the European Commission too, the day will be used to take stock and reflect on some of the research projects into cardiovascular health research it funds.

Research into cardiovascular diseases under the 'Health' Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) has seen around EUR 215 million fund 33 different projects. These projects mainly focus on generating knowledge for improving diagnosis, prevention, treatment and monitoring of diseases of the heart and circulatory system.

The projects address different conditions associated with heart disease such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, cardiomyopathies, congenital heart disease, regenerative therapies, stent thrombosis, as well as specific biomarker research for heart and vessels diseases.

Generally speaking cardiovascular diseases are chronic conditions which develop or persist over a long period of time, however cardiovascular disease can sometimes lead to an acute event, such as a heart attack or stroke, which occurs suddenly when a vessel supplying blood to the heart or brain becomes blocked. Both coronary artery disease and strokes are associated with atherosclerosis - the build up of fatty deposits and debris in the inner walls of blood vessels.

One major EU-funded project is investigating life-threatening forms of cardiac arrhythmia, a group of conditions characterised by irregular electrical activity in the heart. This condition is associated with a high risk of sudden cardiac death. The EUTrigTreat ('Identification and therapeutic targeting of common arrhythmia trigger mechanisms') project, which began in 2009 and runs until 2014, received EUR 12 million of EU funding and is made up of a 16-partner consortium from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The overall aim is to carry out research that aims to better understand arrhythmia-initiating mechanisms and associated risk biomarkers.

Today, modern drug- and device-based preventive strategies remain to a large degree ineffective and are prone to side effects. To tackle this problem the EUTrigTreat consortium investigates mechanisms and biomarkers that underlie arrhythmia risk, considers key genetic and environmental arrhythmia risk modulators, and develops groundbreaking novel treatment options.

The project has already reaped some fruitful results, such as the development of a novel energy-efficient anti-arrhythmic device therapy that has less detrimental side-effects, and is potentially much more cost-effective than existing implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) therapies.

Another notable EU-funded project is EVINCI-study ('Evaluation of integrated cardiac imaging for the detection and characterization of ischemic heart disease') which received a funding boost to the tune of EUR 2.6 million for its work into the comparison of imaging diagnostic tools for heart diseases.

The project aims to test the impact of combined anatomo-functional non invasive cardiac imaging for detection and characterisation of ischemic heart disease (IHD).

The project envisages a prospective clinical European multicentre trial performed on a cohort of 700 patients with suspected IHD. Patients with intermediate pre-test probability will undergo clinical and bio-humoral characterisation, including novel circulating markers of cardiovascular risk.

A relevant part of the EVINCI-study will be dedicated to the development of an advanced informatics platform able to synthetically present to patients and physicians a cardiological diagnostic profile of an individual patient based on the results of a clinical-biohumoral and multi-imaging assessment. The EVINCI-study consortium consists of 21 active partners from 9 European countries.

On World Heart Day events like public talks and screenings, walks and runs, concerts or sporting events, will be taking place all around the world. To coincide with World Heart Day's 10th anniversary last year, the World Heart Federation published a report titled 'State of the Heart' which both reflects on the achievements made in cardiovascular disease research over the past decade, and looks to the future and the challenges still ahead

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