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Uncovering hidden heart diseases


Project Reset is a nationwide, first-of-its-kind study that aims to explore the hidden causes of heart disease, which will help unlock research discoveries and develop new strategies for early detection and prevention.
Issue 3 | December 2023

Uncovering hidden heart diseases
Source: Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS

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Project Reset was launched to unite expertise and resources in an effort to tackle the rise of heart disease, which continues to be a daunting health challenge in Singapore, mirroring global trends as a leading cause of mortality. The statistics reflect a sobering reality - with an average of 34 heart attacks and 23 heart-disease-related deaths every day in the city-state. What compounds the issue is the estimated one-third of the population that may unknowingly harbour early stages of heart disease, which are more often than not a silent precursor to other life- threatening complications.

The large-scale collaborative initiative received a $25 million grant at the launch and is led by Professor Roger Foo, a senior consultant at the National University Heart Centre, Singapore and the Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Professor in Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and his team behind the Cardiovascular-Metabolic Disease Translational Research Programme.

Hitting the reset button for better heart health

Project Reset casts a wide net, screening over 10,000 individuals aged 40 to 70 who have never experienced heart failure, stroke or heart attack. Many factors contribute to heart disease. Hence the project team will capture and investigate a range of data points, from lifestyle information and clinical data to genetic variations, executed at a scale never seen before. They will use artificial intelligence (AI) tools to identify cardio-liver-metabolic biomarkers in the participants - in search of the earliest whispers of heart disease.

"Our goal is to map the disease landscape and identify linkages among conditions that escalate the risk of heart-related complications, including blocked arteries, hypertension, fatty liver and left ventricular fibrosis (scarring of heart muscles)," says Professor Foo. "We're looking to understand the paradox of acute heart complications in seemingly healthy individuals."

Among the participants of Project Reset, 3,000 of them will be selected for a five-year follow-up programme, where new, AI-enabled technologies will be piloted. A smartwatch and a virtual reality gadget will be provided to the participants so they can monitor and manage their health actively. For instance, the tools allow them to feel their liver tissue stiffness and heart rate pulse during discussions with healthcare providers, providing an experiential understanding of their body's warning signs. This approach will not only empower Singaporeans to take charge of their heart health but also help in building a large database that shapes a more informed AI-driven predictive model, enabling researchers to identify higher-risk groups in the community.

Diving deep to uncover hidden diseases

Project Reset aims to broaden the spectrum of risk assessment for heart disease, challenging the conventional boundaries by including factors like fatty liver disease and heart muscle scarring.

The initiative not only focuses on intermediate cardiac risks but also adopts a more holistic view, assessing the whole-body phenotype. This comprehensive analysis is expected to yield fresh perspectives and methodologies for the early detection and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, which may prove beneficial both locally and for the wider Asian demographic.

"We are peeling back the layers of what it means to be truly healthy. As we delve deep into the data, we anticipate finding early warning signs of illness in individuals who might otherwise think they have a clean bill of health," adds Prof Foo. "Project Reset will bring together public healthcare clusters, medical schools, industry and community partners to look at how best to help Singaporeans take charge of their heart health."

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