UCL News


Heart size proven to be 'dead cert' indicator for race performance in horses

17 December 2002

A conference to be held at UCL tomorrow, Tuesday 17th December 2002, will debate for the first time the effect of heart size in humans and animals in health and sports performance.

Big hearts - Good news or bad news?
This sums up the overall theme. Enlarged hearts can work very badly as they do in the disease of Hypertrophic Myopathy, a condition that can cause sudden failure of the heart and death. But athletes have large hearts that work really well - and suffer from less heart disease than sedentary individuals. Physiologists and cardiologists will be presenting the latest findings about the athletes heart in an attempt to solve this conundrum.

In addition, the symposium looks at the controversial issue of screening of young people before they are allowed to participate in sports. Cardiac screening is mandatory in some countries (eg Italy) and there is pressure to introduce it in the UK. We anticipate a lively discussion of the key issues as experts with different viewpoints have agreed to take part.

Key points from presentations
Dr Lesley Young (Animal Health Trust, Newmarket) will present new data proving that for National Hunt horses, heart size is a clear indicator of race performance.

Professor Ben Levine (Dallas, Texas) will present new data from a study of a group of sedentary individuals given elite marathon training for 1 year. Their hearts became much larger, but never reached the efficiency of elite athletes. The results challenge some conventional thinking about cardiac adaptations to exercise. Study also shows much bigger average cardiac growth in males than in females.

Professor Godfrey Smith (Glasgow) will present recent data from joint studies with Norwegian collaborators looking at the molecular changes in individual heart cells from rats trained for endurance exercise. The enlarged heart cells from exercised rats show increased ability to contract - in marked contrast to the enlarged heart cells on rats with the pathological condition of hypertrophic myopathy where enlarged heart cells contract less well. Early data will be presented on the key molecular changes in heart cells from exercised rats.

Screening: key points
The viewpoint of families where a sudden cardiac death has occurred will be presented by Alison Cox from the charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young), arguing for widespread screening. Prof Bill McKenna (St Georges Hospital, London) will argue that this is impractical and that screening concentrating on families with a history of heart disease would be the best course. The situation in Italy will be described by Dr Domenico Corrado (Univ of Padua) and in the USA by Dr Paul Thompson (Hartford Hospital, Connecticut). Recent experience with screening in the UK, for example by the Football Association of young players in club academies, will be reviewed.

'The Athletes Heart'
Joint 1 day symposium (Institute of Sports Medicine, Physiological Society, University College London) is held on Tuesday Dec 17, Cruciform Lecture Theatre No 1, University College London, Gower St, WC1. Organiser: Dr Dan Tunstall Pedoe, Medical Officer for the London Marathon and Consultant Cardiologist, St Bartholomews and Homerton Hospitals. Local arrangements: Dr Bruce Lynn, Director, MSc School of Human Health and Performance, University College London. For more information & abstracts see the website here