University of Oxford’s Sudden heart deaths study wins BHF funding

University of Oxford’s Alfonso Bueno-Orovio has been awarded a British Heart Foundation Intermediate Basic Science Research Fellowship, with funding for 5 years.

The fellowship will be based in Oxford University and co-sponsored by the Radcliffe Department of Medicine.

Alfonso has been awarded the fellowship for research into Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is a complex hereditary heart disease and the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in children and young adults, including young athletes.

An emblematic example of the risk of death in HCM was the cardiac arrest experienced by Fabrice Muamba in March 2012 in the televised football match between Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur: he was clinically dead for more than an hour, and his heart needed 15 electrical shocks to be restarted. In fact, whereas many HCM patients remain asymptomatic, sudden cardiac death is also in many instances the first manifestation of this disease.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects both the muscle and the electrical function of the heart. However, little is yet known about how these two factors combine to increase the risk of deadly episodes in the disease, as this cannot be easily studied in living patients. In this context, computational models of human HCM electrical function and anatomy will be constructed based on a unique dataset at different levels of human physiology.

Simulation studies will be conducted to investigate how the various components of the disease play a role in establishing arrhythmias in human HCM hearts. These new technologies will help in a better diagnosis of patients at risk of cardiac death, and in the identification of novel therapies for the disease.