Professor Mary Sheppard – How CRY’s research has changed the way we understand the causes of young sudden cardiac death

On May 11 we hosted the first CRY Family Research Day, giving some of our supporters a chance to learn more about the massive impact of our research. 

Professor Mary Sheppard spoke about her role at the CRY Centre for Cardiac Pathology (CRY CCP). Professor Sheppard first shared a little information on how much work the heart has to do and exactly how it functions, before moving onto how her work as a pathologist involves looking at the abnormalities in the heart muscle.

With Dr Tim Bowker, who is now one of CRY’s Trustees, Professor Sheppard produced one of the first surveys of sudden, unexpected cardiac death in the UK. “It was the first paper, really, to emphasize the entity of sudden adult death, or sudden arrhythmic death,” Professor Sheppard explained. “Because up until then [1994, when the survey was carried out] most people believed you died of coronary artery disease… We found that, no, in a significant number of sudden unexpected deaths, 7%, the pathologists found nothing…

“The Fellows and the clinicians and cardiologists have now begun to expand our knowledge of these causes. This paper was seminal in telling pathologists when you find a sudden death – a young person, heart is normal, toxicology is negative – you have to do further investigations. You cannot simply leave it unexplained or unascertained.”

After discussing some of her earlier work, Professor Sheppard went on to explain how the CRY CCP has excelled even more since moving to St George’s Hospital in 2014, becoming the largest pathology unit dealing with sudden cardiac death in the world. The CRY CCP has changed the way we understand and prevent young sudden cardiac death.