Editor's Viewpoint: Heart disease find at UU is an eye opener
At one time heart disease was the biggest cause of death in Northern Ireland but it has since been overtaken by cancer. Better diets, fewer smokers and improved therapies have all played a part in reducing the incidence of heart disease but it is still a very significant killer.
But perhaps this could change significantly in the not too distant future if a new diagnostic tool developed in the province proves successful and reliable.
A famous quote says that the eyes are the window to the soul, but for researchers at Ulster University they are also the window to the heart.
For the researchers believe the risk of a person developing a heart condition can be determined by examining blood vessels at the front of the eye.
Like many breakthroughs it came from investigations into something completely different, genetic eye conditions. When researcher Professor Tara Moore examined patterns of health in the patients she was working with, she realised that the eye examinations could have another potential.
If it realises that potential in future a person's risk of cardiac disease could be assessed by a simple examination at their local optician or even mobile telephone imaging, cutting out the present practices of expensive MRI scans and invasive surgeries, and the worry of long waiting lists.
The potential of the new test is not confined to Northern Ireland but would have global implications.
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However, it is a tribute to the quality of medical research being conducted in the province and also the long running collaboration with the charity, Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke, which has funded this venture and plans to spend £2m in research over the next four years.
That is a strong commitment to tackling a very significant health problem. With an average of 17 people suffering a heart attack each day and 74,000 people living with heart disease, any initiative which could reduce those figures is to be warmly welcomed.
Of course the charity depends on the famed generosity of the Northern Ireland public to be able to fund projects like this and it is encouraging that businesses, including a major taxi company, raised £125,000 towards the research.
Now the eye test is to be trialled over a larger cohort of patients to enable it to be validated and then put into practice. All eyes will be on the results.