Heart Disease Specialists Meet Spanish Footballers to Develop Tools for Detecting Sudden Death Syndrome
News Jul 17, 2008
Leading cardiovascular research scientists and a number of prominent football figures from Spain recently convened at the world’s first symposium focused on the molecular analysis of sudden death in football players.
The I Symposium de Prevencion en el Futbol was held at the Hospital Clinico San Carlos in Madrid, where scientists were brought together to initiate the development of new tests for identifying sports players at risk of sudden death. Applied Biosystems was the sponsor for this event.
Sudden death syndrome is most common in men under the age of 40 and generally causes immediate cardiac arrest during strenuous exercise. Reports of unexpected deaths of young men participating in marathons, cycling races and football matches are not unusual. For example, in August of last year, Antonio Puerta, a 22-year-old midfielder for Sevilla, the world-famous Spanish football team, suffered a sudden heart attack on the pitch during a match against Getafe and died three days later.
Sudden death can be caused by a variety of diseases or genetic factors. Genetic causes usually have no symptoms, so professional athletes at risk of the syndrome can appear to be in peak physical condition during routine medical and fitness checks. The cardiovascular disease tests that are currently available are usually insufficient to detect an individual at risk of sudden death, and only a genetic test will provide the required accuracy and reliability.
Developing a new test for predicting sudden death was one of the main objectives of the Madrid symposium, which included a roundtable discussion about methods for identifying specific molecular or genetic changes in people who are at risk. These biological markers – also known as biomarkers – could be used to develop a test panel for screening football players or other sportsmen to identify their risk of sudden death. There are several known genetic causes of sudden adult death, including abnormalities of the heart muscles, and malfunctioning of ion channels.
Ion channels are vital cellular structures through which ions, such as calcium, potassium or sodium, pass in or out during the heart’s normal functioning. Malfunctions of these channels can result in cardiac arrest. Several ion channel abnormalities have been identified that are known to increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, including long QT syndrome and Brugada syndrome.
Dr Antonio Lopez-Farre, a cardiovascular research scientist at the Hospital Clinico San Carlos, is one of the researchers who presented their work at the symposium. He has already started to analyze biomarkers linked to the genetic abnormalities that could cause sudden death, using Applied Biosystems’ advanced mass spectrometry and genetic analysis technologies.
Dr Lopez-Farre’s workflow includes an Applied Biosystems/MDS Analytical Technologies MALDI TOF/TOF™ proteomics analyzer for the identification and quantitation of novel putative biomarkers of sudden death syndrome.
This new research is at the early stages; however, the approach is derived from a previously published study, in which the researchers successfully used the MALDI TOF/TOF to identify new biomarkers of aspirin-resistant coronary ischaemia patients1.
“The identification of biomarkers for sudden death could potentially result in the development of routine tests for sports players that could save the lives of many young people,” said Dr Lopez-Farre. “The Applied Biosystems proteomics and genomics technologies play a vital role in our research, providing the specificity and reliability that we need to be confident in our results.”
Dr Lopez-Farre has also begun routine testing of footballers from Spanish teams in the first and lower divisions, for signs of genetic changes that can lead to sudden death syndrome. He is using several genetic analysis technologies from Applied Biosystems for this research project, including a Genetic Analyzer, GeneAmp PCR System, as well as TaqMan® Low Density Arrays for detecting genetic changes in the DNA of relatives of sudden death victims.
This project is expected to extend across a number of other Spanish football and basketball clubs. Eventually, the 14 cardiovascular researchers involved in this research aim to develop diagnostic tools for sudden death that will be used in sports and athletics associations throughout Europe.