Meet the man who’s spearheading global collaboration to combat cardiac disease

As a cardiologist on a mission to share his knowledge with the world, Professor Martin Cowie answered some of our queries ahead of his talk at TEDxLondon.

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer, claiming close to 18 million deaths per year. More people die annually from cardiovascular diseases than from any other cause. The condition has spread from being a ‘Western’ disease, to something that now affects much of the globe. In an age where collaboration could not be more crucial, Professor Martin Cowie suggests that looking beyond borders will be the key to finding solutions to this healthcare crisis.

Why is vascular disease no longer more prevalent in the Western world?

Reductions in cigarette smoking and improvement in diets have played a big part, along with much better treatment of vascular disease when it does develop.

Why do you think cardiovascular disease is erroneously no longer regarded as one of the biggest killers?

The media concentrates on cancer stories, viewing heart and stroke as ‘less sexy’. Very expensive new cancer drugs also hit the headlines relatively often. This gives the public the wrong impression about which health problems are likely to affect them.

What do you think has been biggest advance in the field over the past five years? What do you foresee to be the biggest breakthrough in the next five years?

Better and more rapid diagnosis of heart and stroke problems, with very fast treatment to open up suddenly blocked arteries has been a huge advance in the past five years, meaning that many more people survive a heart attack or stroke without any long lasting disability. In the future, drug treatments to prevent and treat heart and vascular disease show huge promise, but must be seen in the context of an urgent need to help people to make healthy lifestyle choices: stop smoking, eat more healthily, consume fewer calories and be more active.

How do you personally reduce your own risk of heart disease?

Eating well and not too much. I don’t smoke and enjoy a walk whenever I can.

Often we can learn from medics dealing with the same issues but with much more limited resources than here in the UK. Have you learnt much from colleagues practising in other parts of the world?

Yes indeed. It is all about local champions making sure that whatever can be afforded is put into action and that the medical services work closely with the local population to ensure the best possible outcomes. Often a huge amount can be achieved without much financial resource. Money is not the answer to all of life’s issues!

Why was cardiology your calling?

I always found the heart fascinating – a ‘vital’ organ that our life depends upon. With modern medicine, we can gain fascinating insights into how it and the vascular system work and help people avoid disease or if problems arise we can help them live with them for years, with a good quality of life. It is always fascinating and always fun. One also gets to use their knowledge to save lives and prevent disability. What is not to enjoy?!