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Decade of discovery

19 May 2009

Just one of more than 7,500 volunteers who have participated in heart and cardiovascular risk factor studiesJust one of more than 7,500 volunteers who have participated in heart and cardiovascular risk factor studies

A decade of advances in the understanding, prevention and management of heart disease has been marked at the University.

In Wales every day around 30 people die from heart and circulatory disease and an estimated 240,000 are living with heart conditions.

Now in its tenth anniversary year the Sir Geraint Evans Wales Heart Research Institute at the School of Medicine has advanced international understanding of cardiovascular disease and delivered benefits to patients in Wales. Its establishment was an important milestone in UK cardiovascular research as the first purpose-built, dedicated cardiovascular research Institute in the UK.

Researchers, clinicians, patients and supporters attended an event to celebrate the achievements of the Institute opened by the First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan.

Since 1999 more than 7,500 volunteers have participated in heart and cardiovascular risk factor studies. Research awards totalling more than £16M have been secured by the Institute, more than 500 research papers have been published and 110 Cardiff University students have completed postgraduate study. More than 50 medical undergraduate students have also benefited from a scholarship scheme allowing training in one of the Institute’s laboratories. The research is providing a better understanding of the causes and improving treatment for areas including heart attack, sudden cardiac death syndrome, heart failure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

WHRI 10th anniversary Rhodri Morgan

Professor Tony Lai, Chair of the Wales Heart Research Institute, School of Medicine said: "As with most research, there is no dramatic breakthrough, no "Eureka!"- just painstaking, step-by-step journeys of discovery. After ten years the Institute is now internationally recognised and we are working towards a future when the scourge of heart and circulatory disease is defeated."

Amongst the research projects undertaken since cardiovascular research was established at the University one of the most outstanding has been research on the role of the endothelium, a single layer of cells which lines all the blood vessels of the body. Cardiff research has shown it controls the way in which blood vessels behave and affect the working of the heart. The endothelium has been described as ‘the orchestrator of the blood vessels of the body’.

The First Minister said: "I am very keen to foster top flight scientific research in Wales. That is one of the reasons why the only actual portfolio I hold on top of my day job as First Minister is Minister for Science.

"I also take a personal interest in the treatment of heart disease and research into improved methods of dealing with cardiovascular problems. I saw my father go through three heart attacks between 1957 and 1986 and then I myself experienced something very similar almost two years ago. Treatment now is light years ahead of what it was half a century ago. It is a big problem in Wales and getting to grips with these high levels of cardiovascular disease in Wales is an urgent priority for us all."

The Institute is supported by grants from the British Heart Foundation, Wellcome Trust, European Commission and the UK Medical Research Council, as well as significant support from private donations.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation said: "We are proud of our long tradition of funding world-class research at Cardiff University and our contribution to the Institute. Over the past decade the Institute has provided a focus for essential research into heart disease which remains a major cause of death and disability in Wales."

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