The close collaborations between industry, sport and academia are heralding many advances in imaging research techniques to improve cardiac health for all
The world watched in horror as Inter Milan player Christian Eriksen suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during the Denmark vs Finland UEFA Euro 2020 football match played in summer 2021. This rare but shocking incident brought into sharp focus the fragility of cardiac health, even for elite sports people.
Each year 100,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest[i] and although rare in sports, the recent football event shows that it can still happen to elite sports people despite the numerous screening tests by European sporting institutions including FIFA and the Football Association (FA). But the incident also brought into sharp focus the concerns about young and fit people who have unknown and undetected heart conditions.
It is estimated that every week in the UK, 12 under 35-year-olds die from undiagnosed cardiac conditions[ii] . These are young people at play, at school, working or undertaking grass roots sports that have not had any screening checks yet live at risk of a cardiac anomaly. Undertaking exercise increases the risk of triggering the anomaly as the heart is put under stress.
Ensuring exercise remains a healthy activity for all
Whilst there are valid calls for greater awareness of sudden cardiac arrest, to increase the availability of defibrillators at sporting grounds and schools, and expand knowledge of CPR, it is also important to continue research into how the heart functions during exercise.
Dispelling the issue of ‘over-care’ of children and adults with already diagnosed congenital heart disease is also pertinent. Each day 13 babies are born with heart defects[iii], with 1 in 500 young people and 185,000 of current adults living with a congenital heart issue[iv]. Hesitation to engage in physical exercise has always been a concern in these patient cohorts, but this could now be exacerbated by the worry of high-profile cardiac collapses on the football pitch. As their physical inactivity rises, so too do the negative side effects of increasing obesity and other connected diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
How elite sports research can help adult and paediatric patients
Partnerships between the medical imaging industry, sporting organisations and academic institutions are an important way to help understand the warning signs, identify cardiac issues in the undiagnosed and understand the impacts and safe levels of exercise in those already identified. These collaborations also play a key part in designing medical imaging systems for the future.
Professor Guido Pieles, a consultant cardiologist at the Institute of Sports Exercise and Health, London, and an expert in inherited cardiac conditions, advanced imaging and sports and exercise cardiology, is the author of numerous studies about the effects of exercise on the heart. For many years he has worked with Dr Steve McNally, head of Football Medicine and Science at Manchester United Football Club to not only screen and safeguard players and youth academy members who train regularly, but also to expand knowledge about heart health and contribute to the development of advanced diagnostic imaging systems. This includes echo ultrasound, CT, MRI and mobile scanning units that aim to help unlock greater anatomical detail of the heart.
In a bid to expand the knowledge of sports medicine for the good of all, a new Mobile Cardiac Laboratory has been launched by Professor Pieles in conjunction with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health, HCA Healthcare Limited and Canon Medical UK.
The launch of sports medicine mobile cardiac lab
“This is an exciting stage in our groups work into sport and cardiac health,” states Professor Pieles. “The Mobile Cardiac Laboratory will be available to attend any sporting event in the UK and Europe, providing specialised cardiac performance evaluations using ECG techniques, plus resting and exercise stress 4D echocardiography diagnostic ultrasound imaging[v]. It will provide in-depth assessment of cardiac anatomy and function to identify pre-existing cardiac abnormalities and ensure optimal management and follow up, thereby reducing the potential for adverse events and loss of life. This will help to provide athletes and their families with peace of mind and offer valuable time and cost efficiencies for sporting organisations.”
“Besides our cardiology work in elite sports, the mobile cardiac laboratory would be very useful to consider for school-based screening in the future based on the experiences of football Premier League youth academies that have been undertaking heart screening for young players from the age of 12 over the last decade,” adds Professor Pieles. “Ultimately, the fitter you are, the better your mortality rate and this applies to all people, even those with heart conditions. If we can expand the knowledge and identification of cardiac conditions, we will help a greater number of people to live fuller lives without fear. Collaborations between industry and academia are certainly a key way to keep research progress continuing. This is particularly true for the field of cardiology, where we clinicians depend on state-of-the-art imaging technology. The continuing support by Canon Medical Systems is a great example of such collaborations.”
[i]Heart Rhythm Alliance, https://www.heartrhythmalliance.org/aa/uk/what-you-need-to-know-about-sudden-cardiac-arrest
[ii]Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), https://www.c-r-y.org.uk/why-the-young-and-healthy-drop-dead/
[iii]British Heart Foundation Factsheet, July 2021, https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics
[iv]Prof. Guido Pieles, Cardiac Risk in the Young Conference, 2019, https://www.c-r-y.org.uk/conference-videos-2019/
[v]Canon Medical Systems Aplio i900 diagnostic ultrasound system
Picture: Professor Guido Pieles, a consultant cardiologist at the Institute of Sports Exercise and Health, London.
This news story has been sponsored by the companies concerned and does not represent the views or opinions of RAD Magazine.