University of Ottawa Heart Institute Works with Office of the Chief
Coroner of Ontario to Ensure Potential Genetic Analysis of Unexplained
OTTAWA, July 29 /CNW Telbec/ - The University of Ottawa Heart Institute
(UOHI) working with the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario has developed a
standardized autopsy protocol to investigate unexplained sudden cardiac death
in youth and safeguard genetic material to help identify surviving family
members who might be at risk for the same condition.
Every year in Ontario, as many as 100 youths aged 18 and under die from
no apparent cause that can be determined by standard autopsy. Among the cases
was a sudden cardiac death in February of a high-profile young hockey player
from Windsor, Ontario who collapsed while eating breakfast.
The new protocol entails cardiac autopsy guides specifically aimed at
assessing the heart for a commonly overlooked disease. Now in effect, the
protocol will bring clear answers for grieving families and possibly point to
an inherited but life-threatening genetic disorder that could affect surviving
family members. The protocol, which applies to deaths among people aged two to
40, was led by the Heart Institute working with the Office of the Chief
Coroner of Ontario and involving the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto where autopsies on children are
The impact of the protocol in Ontario is expected to influence other
jurisdictions throughout Canada. Currently, the Heart Institute receives
pathology samples from across the country for cardiac autopsy in unexplained
The Ontario guide advises pathologists for the first time on appropriate
collection and storage of samples for future genetic analysis because of
current knowledge that DNA mutations may be the cause of sudden cardiac death.
Research at the Heart Institute has determined that a genetic mutation, which
can only be found by DNA analysis, causes a common form of irregular heart
beat or arrhythmia.
"For family members, the possibility of having a definitive answer as to
why a loved one died is important. However, the impact of this protocol will
be much greater. If the deceased is shown to have a previously unidentified
genetic defect, this can have implications for surviving family members," said
Dr. Michael Gollob, Director, Inherited Arrhythmia Clinic and Arrhythmia
Research Laboratory, UOHI.
The protocol ensures pathologists perform tests related to a commonly
missed heart condition, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy
(ARVC), which causes electric signals that drive the heart's rhythmic beating
to become irregular. ARVC can be inherited. Treatments for arrhythmic
disorders include medication or surgically implanted defibrillators, which
reactivate a stalled heart beat.
"Many conditions can be clearly seen by examining the left ventricle of
the heart, which is done routinely during autopsy. Since this is a disease
predominantly of the right ventricle, many pathologists may not examine this
area and would miss this possibility. We want to ensure this condition is not
overlooked," said Dr. John Veinot, cardiac pathologist at the Heart Institute.
"The Heart Institute made us aware of how we can further investigate
unexplained cases of sudden cardiac death so that so that families who might
be at risk as a consequence of a genetic condition can be properly assessed.
As part of our public health mandate, this is an important step in identifying
and protecting families at risk, said Dr. Andrew McCallum, Chief Coroner of
"Based on the lead from Ontario, the Canadian Heart Rhythm Society will
examine this issue and determine how we can influence jurisdictions across the
country to follow suit. Our key interest lies in improving our professional
approach so that we can help patient and their families," said Society
President Dr. Martin Gardner, an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Medicine at
At the Heart Institute, Dr. Gollob is a leading national authority in
genetics and arrhythmia. Among his research findings is evidence suggesting
Canadians at risk for sudden cardiac death may be misdiagnosed and are being
treated for other symptoms. His landmark studies have led to a Heart Institute
program for molecular autopsy, genetic screening and genetic counselling in
support of families whose genetic makeup will affect their future health.
The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is Canada's largest and foremost
cardiovascular health centre dedicated to understanding, treating and
preventing heart disease. We deliver high-tech care with a personal touch,
shape the way cardiovascular medicine is practiced, and revolutionize cardiac
treatment and understanding. We build knowledge through research and translate
discoveries into advanced care. We serve the local, national and international
community, and are pioneering a new era in heart health. For more information,
About the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario
The Office of the Chief Coroner employs coroners, who are medical
doctors, to investigate deaths that are sudden and unexpected, as well as some
deaths that warrant further investigation. Under the authority of the Coroners
Act, coroners serve the living by making recommendations to prevent deaths in
similar circumstances and, if necessary, conduct public inquests to further
public safety in Ontario.
About the Canadian Heart Rhythm Society
The Canadian Heart Rhythm Society is a professional organization of
Canada's heart rhythm specialist physicians and allied health professionals.
The Society carries out its work research and education and provides
professional leadership and guidance in clinical practice.
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For further information:
For further information: Marlene Orton Senior Manager, Public Affairs,
University of Ottawa Heart Institute, (613) 761-4427, firstname.lastname@example.org