More than a third of Israelis have never heard of atherosclerosis - clogging of the coronary arteries, which is the leading cause of death in the Western world, including in Israel - while another fifth have heard of it but don't know what it can cause. Just 26 percent knew the connection between atherosclerosis and heart attacks and under 7% about the connection with stroke. This despite the fact that a quarter of all Israeli residents are believed to be at high risk for advanced atherosclerosis, which results from smoking, hypertension, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. Every year, some 10,000 Israelis die from complications of atherosclerosis. The Health Ministry, medical specialist societies and six large medical institutions around the country have decided that because of this ignorance and the entailing risk, they will launch a free early-detection service next month, along with a telephone information service (*6463) and a Web site (www.orakim.co.il). The initiative was announced in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. The atherosclerosis diagnosis and education campaign is being sponsored by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Johnson & Johnson, which makes cardiac stents and other medical products. Individuals will not require referral slips from their health funds to undergo testing at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, Bnei Zion Medical Center in Haifa and Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba. There are 30,000 heart attacks in Israel every year, and 5,000 of the victims die as a result. In addition, 15,000 Israelis have strokes, and 5,000 of them die; a similar number suffer serious disability. Around 1,000 undergo amputation of legs due to poor blood supply in their arteries, while 5,000 have to have open-heart surgery. Smokers with high-cholesterol are six times as likely to have advanced atherosclerosis as nonsmokers. A smoker with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol is 16 times more likely to have a heart attack and/or stroke, kidney disease and amputations. Prof. Shmuel Banai, head of interventional cardiology at Sourasky, said atherosclerosis was a "ticking bomb" in Israel. Many people - including doctors - look at each problem separately and not as a syndrome that can cause disability and death, he said. "We hope that with this effort, we will increase awareness of the disease, identify patients early and treat them efficiently to reduce the number of victims." Meanwhile, it was announced that Rambam Medical Center cardiologist and Technion researcher Prof. Lior Gepstein, 37, is the recipient of the Israel Cardiology Society's Mayerovsky Cardiology Prize. Gepstein was the first in the world to turn embryonic stem cells into tiny cardiac pacemakers. Last year, he received a leading international cardiology prize in the US.