It should come as no surprise that age is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But how exactly does our cardiovascular system change as we grow older? How can we slow down these changes, so that we can preserve cardiac structure and function in the elderly for as long as possible – to ensure that they continue to live a reasonably good quality of life as they age?
Studies have shown that cardiac function is central to one's functional capacity and cognitive ability. An elderly who has poor cardiac function is also more likely to experience deteriorating health with the risk of loss of mobility and independence.
Against the backdrop of a rapidly ageing population and a dramatic increase in life expectancy, plans are underway for a research study to be conducted to understand how ageing affects one's heart functions in the SingHealth Duke-NUS Cardiovascular Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (ACP).
"We are hopeful that the results of this study will shed new light on the workings of the human heart and how it ages."- Dr Angela Koh, Consultant, National Heart Centre Singapore and Principal Researcher of the study
While there have been many studies done on cardiac ageing, there is a need to focus on how it affects the Asian population; to define and understand what it means to age healthily in Asia. Currently, no study has been done to understand how Asians age from mid-life to old age in a methodical way.
Gaining insight in this area will not only enable us to come up with new treatments to preserve heart function but also to move one step closer to being able to better predict the development of heart disease in healthy individuals and intervene before heart disease affects them.
This study on cardiac ageing will leverage on the data collected from the Singapore Chinese Health Study (SCHS), a population-based cohort which recruited more than 63,000 Chinese adults aged between 45 and 74 years from 1993 to 1998. These participants were carefully selected when they were in their mid-life ages of 45 years and above; their biological blood samples were collected and kept.
Using this group of healthy individuals as the prototype of true human ageing, the research team aims to define the key cardiac processes that occur with ageing through performing detailed heart imaging tests as well as comparative investigative studies of the blood samples collected then and now.
Currently, no study has been done to understand how Asians age from mid-life to old age in a methodical way.
Dr Angela Koh, Consultant, National Heart Centre Singapore and Principal Researcher, explains, "We are hopeful that the results of this study will shed new light on the workings of the human heart and how it ages. Having a comprehensive understanding of cardiac ageing structure and function at midlife is the first and critical step we need to take before we can make significant impact upstream on the heart health of our population.
"For example, targeted preventive therapies and clinical interventions can be devised to retard the ageing process for middle-aged adults. At the same time, our findings can go towards shaping the formulation of healthcare policies that promote healthy ageing in Singapore, the region and globally. Additionally, because the heart and central nervous system are closely intertwined, our study will complement on-going efforts to characterise brain structure and function in a sub-cohort of the SCHS."
To realise the far-reaching impact of this study, the team estimates that the funding support required is $820,000. More than 700 volunteers will be involved in this research project that is expected to span three years. The team has raised about half of the funding required for this study, and needs another $350,000 to perform detailed heart imaging and investigative studies of their biological samples.
This article is part of a series that highlights the research and education causes for support in conjunction with the SingHealth Duke-NUS Gala Dinner 2017 that takes place on 3 Sept 2017.
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