Co Down grandmother hopes new research can provide cure for her family with history of sudden cardiac death

A Co Down woman living with an inherited heart condition has welcomed a “defining moment” for cardiovascular medicine.

By Graeme Cousins
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 6:33 pm

It comes as the British Heart Foundation has announced the award of £30m to fund a team of scientists who have come up with an injectable cure which rewrites DNA to cure killer heart diseases.

Grace Harshaw, from outside Banbridge, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in September 2019.

DCM is an often inherited disease of the heart muscle which makes the muscle walls become enlarged and weaker meaning the heart can’t pump blood around the body properly.

Grace Harshaw, from outside Banbridge was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in September 2019

After her diagnosis the grandmother of six learned her son Noel carries the gene.

The 61-year-old said sudden cardiac death ran through her family tree: “There is a significant history of heart disease on my father’s side. My aunt dropped dead at the age of 42, and another cousin of mine died in his 20s. Both had sudden cardiac arrests. My dad’s mother came from a big family with a lot of cardiac problems but until my diagnosis we didn’t realise this gene ran through our family.

“For me by the far the hardest thing was when my son Noel was diagnosed as having the same faulty gene as me. I would rather have been twice as bad and freed him from it. I find it hard to accept he has the gene. I like to think that the CureHeart research the BHF is funding could provide some help for my son and also my grandchildren.”

The CureHeart team, made up of world-leading scientists from the UK, US and Singapore, will seek to develop the first cures for inherited heart muscle disease, also known as genetic cardiomyopathies, by pioneering revolutionary and ultra-precise gene therapy technologies that could edit or silence the faulty genes that cause these deadly conditions.

Grace said: “My son Noel’s daughter, my eldest granddaughter, is almost 14 and will be old enough to be screened herself soon. I don’t know what I’ll do if she’s also positive – but the BHF research could help her. Science is going to be what fixes this and the BHF is at the forefront of this. A future without genetic cardiomyopathy would be really fantastic.”

Head of British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland Fearghal McKinney said: “This is a defining moment for cardiovascular medicine. Not only could CureHeart be the creators of the first cure for inherited heart muscle diseases by tackling killer genes that run through family trees, it could also usher in a new era of precision cardiology. Once successful, the same gene editing innovations could be used to treat a whole range of common heart conditions where genetic faults play a major role.”