Research to prevent sudden death in young adults

4 March 2016        

Category: Research

Federica Marelli-Berg in the lab

Myocarditis occurs when the heart muscle becomes inflamed and is often caused as a result of infection by common viruses. People with the disease can develop heart failure, which in severe cases can result in the person needing a heart transplant.

New work to diagnose and cure the disease, which can cause sudden cardiac death, in young adults is being carried out at Queen Mary University of London, thanks to new research funding made possible by your donations.

We are announcing grants of £1.2 million as part of the appointment of Federica Marelli-Berg (pictured above) as BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Science at the University.

The devastating impact of myocarditis

Andy Maiklem, aged 41 from Kingston in London, developed myocarditis when he was 28 and has since had a heart transplant.

Portrait of Andy

"I had started feeling unwell at a friend’s stag weekend, my breathing was becoming laboured and by the end of the evening I was struggling to climb a single flight of stairs.

"My friends were very worried and made sure that I went to see a doctor the following day. I had a chest x-ray and then an Echo and was told I had heart failure and would need to be admitted into hospital. The doctors took a piece of my heart to examine and that’s when they told me that a virus had attacked my heart.

"Whilst in hospital I had a cardiac arrest. When I woke up six days later on the intensive care unit I had two large tubes coming out of my chest connected to a machine. The machine was doing my heart’s job for it to allow my heart to rest and hopefully get better.

"Unfortunately, my heart did not recover properly and after 3 weeks of being on the machine I was told that I needed a heart transplant. My first reaction was anger, and then frustration. But I couldn't live on the machine forever.

"The doctors said that it could take weeks or even months to find a matching heart. In the end I was extremely fortunate, less than 24 hours after I had been put on the transplant list I went into surgery to be given a new heart."

Research into new treatments

BHF Professor Marelli-Berg is now leading research into the disease, which has, so far, proven difficult to diagnose and treat. This is because, although the dangerous inflammation of the heart muscle seen in the disease is known to be caused by a certain type of white blood cells, called T-cells, researchers do not yet know exactly how this process occurs.

Currently, in order to diagnose someone with myocarditis an invasive procedure has to be carried out to remove a small section of heart muscle for examination. Professor Marelli-Berg’s research could mean this deadly condition can be diagnosed quicker using a non-invasive technique.

Organ rejection

With the new funding, which our supporters made possible, BHF Professor Federica Marelli-Berg will also investigate the role of T-cells in organ rejection.

181 heart transplants took place in the UK last year. Due to advances in medicine, it is now rare for a transplanted heart to be rejected immediately after a transplant occurs. However, around 40 per cent of hearts are rejected within 10 years, resulting in the patients re-joining the ever-growing waiting list for a heart transplant.

Rejection of a transplanted organ occurs when the body’s immune system recognises the new organ as a foreign object and attacks it, just as it would attack an infection. T-cells are responsible for deciding the intensity of this attack against the transplanted organ. During this process the T-cells again move from the blood and infiltrate the organ tissue.

Fund future research

This new research we're funding overs hope for improvements in both heart transplant and the diagnosis and treatment of myocarditis. 

Help us fund more vital research to prevent the sudden devastation of heart disease by donating today.