Family history

Some people who lead healthy lifestyles and have no known risk factors still have heart attacks - usually because the genes we inherit from our parents affect our chances of developing heart disease.

Professor Nilesh SamaniWe continue to fund research to help unravel how our genes affect our chances of developing heart disease, so that we can find new ways to treat and prevent the condition.

Finding heart disease genes

Atherosclerosis, the cause of heart attack and stroke, often runs in families. Our researchers have been instrumental in discovering why; paving the way for the next victory in the fight for every heartbeat.

In the 1990s two BHF Professors Stephen Ball and Sir Nilesh Samani (pictured) set up the British Heart Foundation and MRC-funded Family Heart Study which collected blood samples from 2,000 families with a history of heart attacks.

Biggest study of its kind 

This research may not help me directly, but I hope it will find something that will help prevent my children suffering a heart attack.

Jasu Mistry
Heart attack survivor

They could then compare DNA from 4,000 affected individuals. At the time it was the largest ever study of families for heart disease. Two volunteers that took part were brother and sister Arvind and Jasu Mistry, who both had heart attacks at a young age.

The DNA analysis of these volunteers created the foundation for a huge international research collaboration to untangle the complex inheritance of coronary heart disease, led by Professor Nilesh Samani and BHF Professor Hugh Watkins.

Future prevention and treatment strategies

Over 50 genes, each that raise the risk of heart disease, have been discovered. Many are associated with regulating well known risk factors, such as cholesterol or blood pressure.

However, many of the genes have never before been linked to heart disease and may hold the key to vital new prevention or treatment strategies. Global genetic discovery, underpinned by the BHF in the UK, is setting the stage to take a giant step forward in protecting the hearts of the next generation.

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