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National study looking at the impact of a family history on heart disease

Photo: National call for heart disease study
The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute is leading the largest national study looking at the impact of a family history on heart disease.

Cycling commentator Matt Keenan's intricate knowledge of the sport has him in full control when behind the microphone calling a major race like the Tour de France.

But when it comes to knowing the intricacies of what makes his heart tick, he's in the dark and has every reason to be concerned.

Kennan's grandfather and two uncles on his mother's side all died of heart attacks in their 40s.

"For my grandmother to lose her husband and then to bury two of her children at a very young age - that had a huge impact on her, just enormous," said Keenan

The impact the sudden deaths had on his mother was also "huge" and the anxiety it caused had a flow-on effect for the commentator.
"It's something I have been conscious about from a really young age because of the way my mum responded to it," Keenan said.

"Even as a teenager mum was making sure all of us kids, particularly the boys, had cholesterol checks regularly and that' something that has stayed with me," he said.

"I've felt that sense that maybe I don't have complete control over this, I could be making all the right lifestyle decisions but if there is something there genetically I might just be unlucky."

But not satisfied with leaving it to luck, Keenan will take part in a pioneering Australian study looking at the impact of family history on heart disease.

The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute study, launched on Friday, will be led by Professor Tom Marwick, who believes cardiac imaging can play a pivotal role in detecting people with the early stages of heart disease before it leads to devastating events like a heart attack.

Researchers will use X-ray scanning to detect the early stages of plaque build-up in the arteries among healthy individuals who have a strong family history of coronary artery disease.

It will be the first randomised trial to test the benefit of this technology in the prevention of heart disease, Prof Marwick said.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, killing one person every 27 minutes.

The concern for Keenan is that despite leading a healthy lifestyle his grandfather still suffered a heart attack.

"It's in my self interest to improve the research into cardiac disease because potentially there is something genetic there that could affect me regardless of my lifestyle," said Keenan.

Researchers are looking recruit participants aged between 40 to 70 who have an immediate family member under the age of 60 or a non-immediate family member (grandparent, uncle or aunt) under the age of 50, who have had a heart attack, stent or surgery.

It is also a requirement that they not be taking statin medication to lower cholesterol.

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