Dr Marc Dweck and the team at the University of Edinburgh, who have been awarded £1.36 million by the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust to enable them to investigate myocardial fibrosis and left ventricular decompensation in patients with aortic stenosis.

People living with heart disease could be helped by research that aims to pinpoint when major surgery is needed.

The study will enable doctors to track more effectively when a heart is starting to fail. This improved tracking will help doctors decide the best time to perform surgery with minimum risk to patients’ overall health.

Researchers say the trial will help them gauge severity of heart valve disease, which is difficult to do – particularly in older patients who may also suffer from a number of other health conditions.

The timing of corrective surgery is crucial. Operating too early can place patients at unnecessary risk. Intervening too late can mean heart muscle becomes irreversibly damaged.

The £1.3m study will focus on patients with the most common form of valve disease, called aortic stenosis. The condition is caused by narrowing of a major valve, which puts heart muscle under pressure and cuts its capacity to pump properly. It can lead to heart failure and sudden death.

Trial patients will undergo detailed heart scans and blood tests to determine the severity of their disease and track the capacity of their heart to pump blood. This will provide a baseline against which their future heart function can be compared.

During the trial, half of the patients will receive early surgery, and the other half will be given treatment later.

By analysing patients’ heart function before and after surgery, doctors can determine what impact replacement valves have had. They will also be able to tell at which point in a patient’s disease progression the surgery has had the greatest effect.

The study will recruit between 200 and 300 patients from across Scotland. The project is funded by The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust through its annual Award for Biomedical Research.

Dr Marc Dweck, BHF Intermediate Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh/BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: “This type of heart disease is very common and, with an ageing population, we are set for an epidemic. Rates are set to treble by 2050, so it is crucial to develop new interventions now.

“We hope that by optimising the timing of life-saving surgery, we can deliver major reductions in patient illness and death, leading to a step-change in treatment.”