An interview with CRY’s first Research Fellow, Dr Jayesh Makan

CRY is mostly known in the UK for its screening programme, where we typically screen over 30,000 young people each year. However, in the medical community around the world, CRY is best known for research. CRY currently has 5 Research Fellows who divide their time between NHS clinics, CRY screening events (once they can safely resume) and research.

The first Research Fellow CRY brought on was Dr Jayesh Makan, who joined the charity in April 2003 and worked with CRY Consultant Cardiologist Professor Sharma, who oversees CRY’s research and screening programme. Dr Makan has continued to support CRY over the years and is now a Trustee. He recently looked back at his time with the charity and what his work as a Research Fellow involved.

“Prior to [joining CRY] I worked as a registrar at Lewisham Hospital with Professor Sanjay Sharma,” Dr Makan says. “I wanted to pursue a career in Cardiology and asked Prof for career guidance. He described his career pathway and I was particularly impressed with his research experience and the strong affiliation he had with CRY. I knew that this was an organisation that I wanted to become involved with. I was taken aback by the passion of Steve and Alison Cox and by the commitment of the then small group of staff.

When Dr Makan joined CRY in 2003, the understanding of the causes and incidence of young sudden cardiac death wasn’t nearly what it is now. It used to be a common belief that there was only one young sudden cardiac death a week, and there was a far more limited understanding of the cardiac conditions that can cause these tragedies or affect young people who live with a condition. Now, thanks to CRY research, we know that every week in the UK at least 12 apparently fit and healthy young people die of undiagnosed heart conditions, and 1 in 300 people will have a potentially life-threatening heart condition.

“At the time, the mechanisms of sudden cardiac death in young people in the UK were not well understood and raising awareness was critical,” Dr Makan explains. “I wanted to learn more about these diseases and understand how to diagnose and treat conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, long QT and Brugada Syndrome. I was keen to meet the families involved with CRY. I can never forget the incredible efforts they went through to raise funds and support each other in the face of unbearable trauma and sadness.

“Initially, I attended family and sports screenings throughout the UK. A small group of us would travel up and down the country performing hundreds of ECGs and echocardiograms. Throughout the process, I learnt echocardiography and advanced ECG reading skills whilst also collating the data ready to use for research projects. After a few months, Professor Sharma and I discussed applying for a formal research fellowship. This would have meant leaving CRY but Prof and Alison decided to offer me the chance to be CRY’s first Research Fellow – an incredible opportunity. This was based at Lewisham Hospital for a period of two years.

“During my time as a Fellow I collected data from our family and sports screenings with a view to understanding the significance and prevalence of certain ECG changes in junior athletes. This led to my first abstract presentation at the British Cardiovascular Society in 2004. I then went on to publish a paper in Heart detailing the upper limits of ventricular cavity size in adolescent athletes. Much of my research helped contribute to papers published by subsequent Research Fellows.”

Dr Makan went on to advance as a cardiologist after his time as a CRY Research Fellow was completed, before reaching his current position as the Clinical Director for Cardiology at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, and joining CRY as a Trustee in December 2018.

“After completing my research fellowship, I was awarded a National Training Number in Cardiology. This was a 6 year rotation with subspecialty training in complex device implantation at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals. In 2011, I was appointed as a Consultant Cardiologist at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust where I am now the Clinical Director for Cardiology.”

Over the last two decades, Dr Makan has been able to see how much CRY has grown in all areas. From the development of our screening programme to the ways our doctors’ research has continued to transform our understanding of young sudden cardiac death, a lot has changed over the last 20 years.

“I feel incredibly proud,” Dr Makan said when looking back at his time with CRY and how far the charity has come. “From funding one Research Fellow in 2003 to funding up to eight each year now, the development has been startling. Hundreds of thousands of individuals screened over the years. CRY has benefited from outstanding and inspirational leadership from Alison and Steve Cox and immense clinical support from the CRY Cardiologists, including Professor Sharma and Dr Michael Papadakis. Research supported by CRY continues to help us understand more about these life threatening conditions. The studies have been truly ground breaking. Most importantly though, the support to CRY families has provided many with hope and comfort through the most difficult times.”

We have now had a total of over 30 Research Fellows over the years, who have been trained as specialists by CRY, completed a wealth of impactful research, and are now working in the NHS throughout the UK, while many more have received international grants to return to hospitals around the world. From Dr Makan to all of our current Research Fellows, we are extremely grateful for all the work they have done to contribute to CRY and help transform our understanding of young sudden cardiac death.