Cash raised at convenience stores across the UK during a Halloween charity campaign has led to a donation of £300,000 to researchers at St George’s University of London tackling sudden cardiac deaths in younger people.


The issue of sudden cardiac death has a special significance for McColl’s Chairman James Lancaster and his wife Margaret, who lost their son Robert to sudden cardiac death in 2007. He was aged just 21.

On a visit to St George’s, James Lancaster said: “We’re interested in paying for good brains, rather than plaques on walls. Our staff are very enthusiastic about fundraising, and we’re very interested in the developments at St George’s.”


The donation continues the company’s generous support to the institution for the specific cause of understanding, and eventually preventing, sudden cardiac death. Last year McColl’s donated £209,500 to St George’s from the same campaign. Dr Elijah Behr said: “The funding from McColl’s has enabled our research group working on this to double in size and expand its scope. We are extremely grateful for the continuing and invaluable support of McColl's Retail Group for this vital work”

Several projects are underway at St George’s:


•    A key clinical trial developed by McColl’s- and Cardiac Risk in the Young- funded research fellow Dr Bode Ensam to investigate the cardiac drug Ajmaline has been approved by NHS Ethics and is about to recruit patients. Ajmaline is currently used in the ECG diagnosis of Brugada syndrome, an inherited condition that can lead to sudden cardiac death, but not enough is known about the drug’s specificity, and whether the ECG pattern in Brugada syndrome can be produced in normal healthy individuals without the condition. McColls will be recruiting 200 people for this trial via their staff newsletter and through their shops. Volunteers will also be sought by St George’s.
 
•    The money will continue to provide support to Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne, Cardiology Specialty Registrar and Clinical Research Fellow. She is studying how the electrical circuits in heart cells can become abnormal, at a genetic level. Her work involves generating stem-cell derived cardiac cells in the laboratory, meaning that heart tissue doesn’t have to be taken from patients.

•    Research Fellow Dr Chris Miles has been appointed to study the role of fibrosis in sudden death. He is also investigating whether there could be a possible link to the Brugada syndrome.
 
•    Computer scientist Xinkai Wang, another new appointment, is working on using health records to identify persons at risk of sudden death. He is developing new technologies around quantitative analysis for patient data, inputting family history, diagnosis, genetic data and ECG data in one place. This work is vital for the wider research community investigating sudden cardiac death, giving clues on past patient data for future studies. Dr Behr explained: “One of our aims is for St George’s to be a hub of this data internationally, so that researchers and clinicians can bring their own ideas to the table.”


Every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people die suddenly from undiagnosed heart conditions. In 80 per cent of cases, there are no signs or symptoms.