Michael Brennan has an active lifestyle. After taking early retirement, he spends much of his time cycling and tending his garden. Even so, Michael is keen to maintain that good health. It is why he volunteered for a North East-based trial aimed at better identifying people at higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.
The HEART study, as it is known, is being run from a number of GP practices and involves a blood test. The sample will be analysed for genetic changes that could increase the chances of a person developing heart disease or having a stroke.
It is hoped the test will add to information already gathered in an NHS Health Check. It is available - every five years - to people aged between 40 and 74 and considers factors such as age, sex, cholesterol level and blood pressure. The test now being trialled is seen as a potential new piece in the jigsaw, adding to the overall picture of a patient's health.
Professor Ahmet Fuat is a Darlington GP who is leading the trial. He hopes the results will make it easier for doctors - and patients themselves - to prevent conditions developing, by making lifestyle changes or prescribing medication.
He said: "Stop smoking if they smoke, cut down on too much alcohol, exercise more, eat the right things. But also the benefits of drugs like statins are overwhelming for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke."
Prof Fuat also hopes the results could lead to more personalised treatment. That is a view shared by Prof Handrean Soran from the cholesterol charity, Heart UK.
For those concerned about the concept of genetic testing, Prof Soran offered this perspective: "I don't think there should be any concern at this kind of genetic test. In particular in the United Kingdom, we have an NHS which is a public service so there is no real concern if we identify something or some genes which increase risk of certain diseases then it will be dealt with and it's better that we know rather than we don't know."
The trial is open to people between 45 and 64 who have signed up for an NHS Health Check. It is expected to continue recruiting until the spring of 2022 with results due by the autumn.