Treating familial hypercholesterolemia

Researcher

Too much 'bad' cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

Researching high cholesterol

This harmful type of cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. 

Our researchers, funded by your donations, have made massive contributions towards the science used to detect high cholesterol, and the medicines we now use to control it. 

Running in families 

Gene-hunting research led by BHF Professor Steve Humphries at the Institute of Child Health at University College London, has led to recommendations for a national screening service for families affected by high cholesterol caused by a condition called Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH). 

The condition causes dangerously high levels of harmful cholesterol but once affected people are identified doctors can help minimise the dangers of FH with medication and by recommending changes to the way people live. 

Our research has suggested that if this condition is identified early and treatment given, people with it are likely to have a normal life-expectancy. 

Track the progress of FH research from bench-to-bedside in our Life saving science booklet

Developing statins 

High levels of harmful LDL cholesterol circulating in our blood can increase the risk of fatty deposits building up in our arteries. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. 

We funded heart researchers have played a vital role in researching the relationship between high cholesterol and heart disease, particularly through the use of a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.

Millions of people across the UK now benefit from these medicines every day. 

Statins reduce heart attack risk by a third

Investigators in Scotland, including the now-retired BHF Professor Stuart Cobbe, designed the West of Scotland Study of Coronary Prevention (WOSCOP) to see if statins would benefit people with high cholesterol even before they had any signs of heart disease. 

The trial revealed that people with high cholesterol could reduce their risk of having a first-time heart attack by nearly a third by taking statins. 

Statins help patients at high-risk of heart disease

A few years later, the BHF and Medical Research Council collaborated to fund the world’s largest trial of cholesterol-lowering medicines for people known to be at high risk of heart disease, but who had ‘normal’ cholesterol levels. 

The Heart Protection Study established that statins reduced the risk of a heart attack in these people by around 25 per cent. The study was led by BHF Professor Rory Collins.

The results have been used to develop guidelines for the prescription of statins for all patients in the UK at high risk of a heart attack. It's estimated that statins save over 7,000 lives each year in the UK.

Learn more about life with FH by reading Suzanne's story.

The future of cholesterol research 

We continue to invest in research to help us maximise the heart-protective benefits of statin therapy, and to help us understand why some people are particularly susceptible to high levels of harmful cholesterol. 

In 2008 Rory Collins' team - part of the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at Oxford University - found that people with a variation in a gene involved in processing statins are more susceptible to a rare side-effect of the medicines.

Their findings could evolve the way high-dose statins are prescribed.

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