A British teenager has been praised by judges in a science contest after discovering a factor that could put black athletes with heart conditions at more risk of not being diagnosed.
Henry Roth explored the genetic condition hypertropic cardiomopathy. It leads to a thickening of the heart’s muscle walls and, if undiagnosed and untreated, increases the risk of a sudden death. The condition has made the headlines with two high-profile soccer players suffering heart attacks in their 20s, in one case fatally.
While the condition can normally be diagnosed by checking for a thickened heart muscle, that’s not always possible with athletes as their muscle may have been thickened through exercise. Instead athletes are normally diagnosed by measuring peak oxygen consumption levels during exercise.
Having learned that hypertropic cardiomopathy appears to be more common among Afro-Caribbean athletes than caucasian athletes, Henry decided to explore whether the difference might instead be the success of screening, which in turn affects how like the condition is to develop into medical problems.
With the help of St George’s Hospital, Henry ran a study on professional athletes. He discovered that peak oxygen consumption levels vary significantly between Afro-Caribbean and caucasian athletes. That means current testing — which uses a standard threshold for all athletes — could miss catching the condition in Afro-Carribbean athletes.
Henry now plans to spend his gap year (a break before going on to university) at the hospital to develop his findings and ways to make diagnosis more accurate.