VOLUNTEERS are being encouraged to take part in the world's largest ever study into family heart disease.

The British Heart Foundation launched its 40th anniversary celebrations by announcing the £2.5 million study.

It wants 2,000 families from across the UK who have a history of hereditary heart disease to come forward.

They will need to give a blood sample and a DNA library will be set up for researchers to pinpoint rogue genes which contribute to coronary heart disease.

In the region, the death rate from coronary heart disease is on of the highest in the country.

Other grim statistics for the North West include:

The premature death rate from CHD is 51 per cent higher than in East Anglia which has the UK's lowest rate.

The region has a high number of smokers.

Fruit and vegetable consumption is the lowest in England -- equivalent to just nine portions a week instead of the recommended 35.

Women in the NW are among the UK's biggest drinkers -- 25 per cent drink more than three units on their heaviest drinking day. The BHF Family Heart Study -- being carried out by Leeds and Leicester Universities -- has already hit the road with a nationwide tour featuring a converted London bus visiting cities across the UK to publicise the project and recruit families.

The tour, sponsored by Sainsbury's, who have adopted the BHF as their charity for 2001, will arrive in Manchester on Tuesday, February 27, Liverpool on February 28 and Chester on March 1.

Lynn Brown, BHF regional director for the NW, said: "The incidence of heart disease in the North West is among the highest in the UK.

"We will be encouraging as many eligible families as possible to get involved as it will give people a chance to make a real difference in their own area"

To volunteer call free on 0800 052 7154.