Leicester doctor awarded grant to reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes

A vascular surgeon from Leicester’s Hospitals has been awarded a four-year grant worth over £1 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Dr Athanasios Saratzis, who is also an Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, has been awarded the fellowship to develop and test a health intervention for men with aortic abdominal aneurysms (AAAs) to improve their health and reduce their chances of heart attacks and strokes.

Professor Matt Bown, vascular surgeon at Leicester’s Hospitals and a professor of vascular surgery at the University of Leicester has been mentoring Dr Saratzis as an international expert on aneurysms. He said of the award: “The NIHR Advanced Fellowship is the highest level of research training award that practicing clinicians can receive. This is a major achievement for Mr Saratzis, the vascular surgery team at Leicester’s Hospitals, the NIHR Leicester BRC and the University of Leicester. The work to be done in the fellowship programme will be of direct benefit to patients, and will define a new paradigm for cardiovascular care in men with abdominal aortic aneurysm.”

AAA, which usually occurs in men aged over 65, is an abnormal bulge or swelling of the aorta, the biggest artery in the body that runs from the heart through to the chest and abdomen. Although rare, large aneurysms become weaker with age, lifestyle habits such as smoking and through swelling growth without treatment. These can then rupture, leading to life-threatening internal bleeding. 

A rupture may never occur, but if it does it is fatal in 80 per cent of cases. Ruptured aortic aneurysms cause 5,000 deaths in the UK each year. 

Dr Saratzis said: “All men over 65 are offered screening for AAA in England and Wales. For those patients where a small AAA has been detected, surgery is not offered as the risks outweigh the benefits. However, they do carry a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes compared to men without an AAA. Despite this, individuals with a small AAA are not routinely offered adequate help and support to prevent these problems from developing.” 

He continued: “This award will allow me and a diverse team of experts to assess how we can help individuals diagnosed with an aneurysm improve their cardiovascular health through the existing screening programme. I am delighted to have received this important funding from NIHR which will help save and improve the lives of vascular patients in the future.”

Dr Saratzis and the team will work with patients, carers and GPs to identify the barriers that prevent good heart care in people with AAAs. He will use these insights to develop an intervention that may include exercise, diet and guidance on how to take medications correctly. Men with AAAs within Leicestershire will then be invited to take part in a study to see how the intervention works in practice. If successful, the intervention could be assessed on whether it offers value-for-money within the NHS if implemented on a national scale.