DMD research

Duchenne UK grants £86,460 to further understand the causes of heart disease in DMD

5th October 2018

Duchenne UK has granted £86,460 to consultant cardiologist Dr John Bourke at Newcastle Hospital, to carry out a study of Arrhythmias to improve understanding of the causes of heart disease in DMD.

Duchenne UK, Joining Jack and Alex’s Wish are jointly funding this study.

The devastating nature of DMD leads to progressive heart disease.
Heart disease or cardiomyopathy will affect all patients with DMD and is the second most common cause of death, after heart attacks.

Dr Bourke wants to understand the impact of arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems) in DMD patients, particularly adolescents and adults living with DMD who have previously shown no symptoms of arrhythmias.

For many families this is a difficult topic to discuss. But this study is very important as it could potentially determine whether the use of devices such as pacemakers could have an impact on life expectancy. The pacemakers could be offered whilst patients are free of symptoms and with a good quality of life.

Many cases of death in DMD patients have occurred because of underlying heart problems. Yet these problems can be difficult to detect and the patient’s heart health appears stable because the issues relating to heart disease do not show any outward symptoms.

Emily Crossley and Alex Johnson, Co-CEO’s of Duchenne UK said: “We are very pleased to be funding Dr Bourke and this study. He is incredibly dedicated to working to help improve cardiac outcomes for patients with DMD. We hope this study will provide evidence of the potential benefit of using devices like pacemakers and can impact life expectancy if patients are monitored and have a device fitted earlier than they would usually do”.

Jon Hastie, CEO of DMD Pathfinders and adult living with DMD, said: “This project looks really interesting. I would say the project is needed as cardiac failure is such a significant cause of death and we definitely need to understand it more.”

This project aims to address the following:

  • Quantification of extent, distribution and architecture of cardiac scarring
  • Compare scar burden/characteristics between BDMD patients and patients with myocardial infarction with similar heart function.
  • Finally, to understand and define whether the prevalence of such minimally or non- symptomatic tachy/brady-arrhythmias is the same in BDMD patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction.

Read Sejal, one of our advocacy Support Officer’s, advice on heart medication in her blog:


Arrhythmias Q&A:

Q: Why is this project so important?

A: Progressive muscle-weakness of the heart (cardiomyopathy), culminating in 'pumping-failure' with symptoms is a significant cause of death in people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. However, sometimes death occurs unexpectedly - without any prior heart symptoms and when quality of life is good. There are a variety of possible heart and 'non-heart' reasons why death might happen suddenly in this way. This project is designed to study the most likely cause of sudden deaths by defining the prevalence of asymptomatic 'warning' disturbances of heart rhythm (arrhythmias) in patients with DMD. The findings will determine whether using implantable devices such as defibrillators or pacemakers to treat arrhythmias in DMD could prevent cardiac arrests due to cardiomyopathy. Treatment with these devices is known to prolong survival in non-DMD patients with similar degrees of heart pumping weakness. However, implantable-defibrillators are not usually considered for patients with DMD. By looking systematically for ‘background arrhythmias’ which are not yet apparent to the patient and not sought by routine clinical checks currently, the findings will determine for the first time the prevalence and likely contributors to sudden cardiac death from 'run-away' fast or slow heart rhythms in DMD. This information is key to designing strategies for prevention.

Q: Who will benefit from this study?

A: The adults who take part in the study will benefit directly from the comprehensive cardiac monitoring they will receive through the study design. The small 'chip' implanted under the skin for the research provides 24/7 heart-rhythm surveillance and communicates any abnormalities automatically to a central monitoring station. This degree of heart rhythm surveillance is way above and beyond what is done currently as part of routine DMD heart checking.

The wider Duchenne community will also benefit in the longer term through the improved understanding of the contribution of cardiac arrhythmias to deaths in patients with DMD. The results will determine, for example, whether adding device-therapy - such as pacemakers, to the medicines already used now could improve outcomes further by preventing sudden deaths from cardiomyopathy (progressive heart weakness and 'electrical instability') in patients with DMD.

Q: How could this project translate into finding a treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy?

A: Depending on the results we get from the study, it may show that DMD patients could benefit from either implantable defibrillator therapy or pacemaker therapy. If arrhythmias are not detected, the focus for further research would move to considering the role of pulmonary embolism (blood clots) as the cause of unexpected heart failure and the use of blood thinning therapies to prevent this.

- ENDS -


What is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy?

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common fatal genetic disease diagnosed in childhood. Children born with DMD cannot produce the protein dystrophin which is vital for muscle strength and function. Muscle weakness starts in early childhood. Many use a wheelchair by around the age of 12. As deterioration continues it leads to paralysis and early death, often in their 20s. It almost exclusively affects boys. There is no treatment or cure. In the UK there are around 2,500 boys affected and around 300, 000 worldwide. It is classified as a rare disease.

Who are Duchenne UK?

Duchenne UK is a lean, ambitious and highly focused charity with a clear vision: to fund and accelerate treatments and a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The charity has been formed by the coming together of Joining Jack and Duchenne Children's Trust, the two biggest funders of research in the UK in the last three years. Its president is HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Its patrons include the broadcasters Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Mary Nightingale, and the sports stars Owen Farrell, Kris Radlinski and Andy Farrell.

How to donate?

Duchenne UK is entirely reliant on donations to fund research for treatments and a cure to DMD. This can be done via:

  • Direct Debit – Duchenne Direct
  • Individual Donation – Donate
  • If you are a family or friend affected by DMD you can set up your own fund with Duchenne UK – Family and Friend Funds
  • Take part in one of our fundraising events – Events
  • Text DUCH10 £10 to 70070

For more information and interview requests:

Visit www.duchenneuk.org

Molly Hunt – Communications Manger, Duchenne UK E: [email protected]

Published on 10 May 2018

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