Today is National Women’s Heart Health Day, part of February’s National Heart Month. Why a day just for women? Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, but women are less likely than men to recognize their risk or to receive fast-acting drugs to improve their chances of surviving strokes or heart attacks.
To help women recognize and lower their risk of heart disease, The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, ten years ago started their The Heart Truth campaign. This is the campaign that’s associated with the red dresses and encouragement for women to take steps to lower their risk.
I have, in the past, been skeptical of awareness campaigns. Who cares how aware people are of disease risk if there’s no corresponding call to action to reduce risk? What’s great about the NHLBI’s campaign is that it seems to be working. On their website, they reference a study showing that 57% of women who saw the red dress campaign took at least one step to reduce their risk of heart disease – including getting exercise, stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. That’s up from 35% in 2008.
Given that heart disease is so common in both men and women, it’s no surprise CIRM funds as much as we do in this area. Our website has a list of all awards targeting heart disease, adding up to more than $45 million. Of these, one award worth $5.5 million is to a team of researchers led by Eduardo Marban of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. That team hopes to be in clinical trials with their approach for treating heart failure in the next few years. My colleague Todd Dubnicoff wrote about a talk Marban recently gave to our governing board describing results from work leading up to the CIRM-funded award. You can watch a video of that talk here.
We also have a list of all stroke-related awards worth almost $40 million. One of those is a $20 million award to a team led by Gary Steinberg at Stanford University, who hopes to be in clinical trials with a therapy based on embryonic stem cells in a few years. You can read more about that team’s approach in our Stories of Hope: Stroke.
As a woman with heart disease in the family I’m glad the NHLBI is having such success in helping other women recognize and reduce their risk. But prevention can’t stop all heart disease. That’s why I’m also glad to see good research by teams trying to find ways of helping people survive and recover if they do have heart attacks or strokes.