Scientists at The University of Manchester have solved a mystery connected with why people die from sudden cardiac arrest during sleep -- potentially saving thousands of lives
The pioneering research, using detailed computer models, could help save lives through preventative treatment of those most at risk from a form of heart rhythm disorder called sick sinus syndrome.
This occurs when the activity of the heart's pacemaker, the sinoatrial node, is impaired. Up to now, no-one has been able to work out why this happens.
But groundbreaking research by Professor Henggui Zhang at The University of Manchester shows how gene mutation and activity of the nervous system can combine to seriously disrupt the heart's normal rhythm.
This research means it would be possible to identify those most at risk of suffering sudden cardiac death, which can affect people of any age but particularly the healthy elderly and well-trained athletes.
It could then be possible to control the risk by using drugs or a pacemaker.
Sudden cardiac death occurs after an abrupt loss of consciousness within one hour of the onset of acute symptoms. This often happens during the night as heart rate slows dramatically at night times.
The form of sick sinus syndrome investigated is not connected with structural heart disease, but with genetic mutations that alter a protein called SCN5A that is involved in generation of electrical activity in the heart. Problems can occur for people of any age who possess this genetic abnormality.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from sudden cardiac death -- many of them young and fit. It is estimated that about 30% of sudden cardiac deaths occur at nighttime.