Early detection of heart disease in the young and preventing it in adults

Wednesday, 30 October, 6.00-7.30pm

Professor David Celermajer, Scandrett Professor of Cardiology, Sydney Medical School, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and Clinical Director Heart Research Institute

Heart disease remains the number one cause of early disability and death in the western world and now, surprisingly, has become the most frequent cause of early death in the developing world also.

The most important diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as heart attack, stroke and the effects of rheumatic heart disease, tend to manifest in middle to late age. Nevertheless, many of these disease processes take decades to develop and the first changes start to occur in teenage life. Sometimes, the earliest changes can even occur in childhood or rarely, even in foetal life. This new appreciation of the very early onset of disease has opened the window to the possibility of early detection and thus improved prevention.

'Atherosclerosis' is the process of build up of cholesterol plaques in the main blood vessels of the body that leads to heart attack and stroke. Our Lab was one of the first in the world to describe the earliest changes in the linings of the blood vessels, the so-called endothelial cell layers that show the harbingers of atherosclerosis later in life and can now be detected in humans using non-invasive techniques. These are mainly based on ultrasound and more recently, CT scanning and MRI scanning have given insights into early detection of vascular disease in children and young adults.

Rheumatic heart disease remains a devastating post-infectious illness that can lead to symptoms of breathlessness and even early death and is very prevalent in many regions of the world. We have recently also described techniques for early detection of valvular heart disease after rheumatic fever, again using ultrasound, and we "road tested" these in developing world countries, seeking a cost-effective and practical solution to early detection and thus late disease prevention.

Early detection of heart disease in childhood and young adult life thus opens up the important possibilities of preventing late disease, with enormous potential benefits across the world, to reduce the devastating impact of heart disease in later life.

VENUE: New Law School Foyer, Camperdown Campus, the University of Sydney

READ: Radius magazine's interview with Professor Celermajer