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Tackling this country's biggest cause of premature death.

Wednesdays 28 August to 11 September 2002, 9.00-9.30pm

Geoff Watts investigates the ways in which cardiac research is helping to prevent heart disease and is gearing up to treat, rebuild or replace our faulty hearts.

Doctor and patient

Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death worldwide. The epidemic which kills ΒΌ million Britons each year is our biggest cause of premature death and shows no sign of slowing down. In Matters of the Heart, Geoff Watts offers a new 3 part investigation into heart function and failure. Where are our current prevention strategies succeeding and failing? How much more effort needs to be diverted into coping with the aftermath of an attack?

Geoff Watts examines how gene therapy and tissue regeneration look set - in a remarkably short time - to rebuild damaged hearts. He also examines how treatment for heart attacks now gives greatly improved survival from such a traumatic experience - but in turn is leading to cardiology's fastest growing epidemic: heart failure.

1. Disease Prevention

The first programme lifts the lid on prevention of heart disease - the myths and facts surrounding self help approaches to avoiding heart disease and heart failure. Interest in preventing the consequences of coronary heart disease is intense because the disease often crops up suddenly. Whilst death from heart attacks may be in check, the symptoms are not. We often think that there's a close relationship between healthy diet and a healthy heart - but in reality there's a paucity of research supporting the link. What are the factors which secure a healthy heart long term? How can lifestyle changes really help to prevent the rise of our fastest growing epidemic?

Listen again to the programme Listen again to Programme 1

2. Attack and the Aftermath

The number of people dying of heart attacks has rapidly diminished in recent decades. New imaging techniques together with treatment for coronary artery disease - the potentially lethal narrowing of blood vessels that feed the heart - has prevented many premature deaths. But as Matters of the Heart reveals, success in reducing one form of heart disease has led to an increase in another - heart failure - in which the damaged heart pumps blood less efficiently around the body. The result is tiredness and breathlessness - and one in ten deaths are now as a result of this crippling disease.

However, as Geoff Watts discovers as he visits teams of cardiologists and researchers around the country - it's not an easy condition to diagnose, let alone treat. How are current drug regimes and lifestyle treatments addressing the debilitating effects of the disease and improving quality of a patient's life? Can current treatments be redirected to stem the tide of what is cardiology's fastest growing epidemic?

Listen again to the programme Listen again to Programme 2

3. Brave New Heart

As we live longer, the pressure to succeed where current treatments are failing is huge. So how is cutting edge cardiac research gearing up to rebuild or replace our faulty hearts? In the final programme we find that a host of new methods look set to supersede well publicised, but limited approaches - as organ donation continues to be outstripped by demand, and the success of mechanical hearts remains very limited.

Geoff Watts returns to the research labs to discover how rebuilding our own ailing hearts is the great white hope in curing cardiac disease: from engineering new heart muscle in order to patch damaged regions of a faulty heart, to methods of inducing damaged hearts to grow their own new blood vessels, in what amounts to a "biological bypass" with no surgery. Such imminent treatments for heart disease could finally achieve the long awaited impact in stemming the tide of our biggest killer.

Listen again to the programme Listen again to Programme 3

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