The Cormac Trust supports NUI Galway research into Sudden Adult Death Syndrome

Sanbing Shen, Professor of Fundamental Stem Cell Biology, NUI Galway meeting Brendan McAnallen, Founder and Trustee of the Cormac Trust, Bridget McAnallen, Founder and Trustee of the Cormac Trust and Kevin McCloy, Trustee of the Cormac Trust to mark the funding contribution to NUI Galway research into Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and the development of future genetic cures. Credit: NUI Galway
Jan 11 2022 Posted: 09:21 CST

Pioneering study of heart cells supported by family of late Tyrone footballer to explain cause of death and develop genetic cures 

The Cormac Trust, set up in the name of the late Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen, is to support research at NUI Galway into Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and the development of future genetic cures.

The support from The Cormac Trust will enable research into the mechanism of disease and the discovery of new treatments using stem cell technology which allows researchers to grow heart cells in the lab. 

The Cormac Trust was set up by Bridget and Brendan McAnallen after the sudden death of their son Cormac in March 2004 aged 24.

Cormac was a well-known sportsman of exceptional fitness and of ostensibly perfect health up until the time of his death. He won the All-Ireland Football Championship with Tyrone in 2003.  

The University’s Regenerative Medicine Institute REMEDI has enrolled 20 patients into a programme analysing heart cells and causes of death.

Professor Tim O’Brien, Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Consultant Endocrinologist at Galway University Hospitals and Director of REMEDI, said: “We greatly appreciate the support from The Cormac Trust which enables research into the mechanism of disease and also discovery of new treatments using technology which allows researchers to grow heart cells in the laboratory.” 

Bridget McAnallen, Cormac’s mother and director of the Cormac Trust, said “We are delighted that a cure for Long QT Syndrome, one of the most prevalent types of SADS, is on the horizon. Cormac McAnalllen died very suddenly from this condition which often has no symptoms and kills even the strongest and fittest young people without warning. This amazing and ground-breaking genetic research which involves North-South co-operation is, I believe, the first research to envisage a cure for this shocking condition, which not only can kill young people, but can be passed on and cause death in successive generations, and devastate families.”

The issue of sudden cardiac death among young people became more widely known among the general public largely due to the death of Cormac and Irish youth rugby international John McCall and other subsequent cases. Since 2004, the McAnallen family have been keen to direct public attention to these cardiac conditions that cause such sudden deaths. 

Researchers at NUI Galway have generated a biobank of cells which are created by taking skin biopsies and converting the cells to become any cell type in the body.  The new technology is known as induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs. These are cells that are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state that enables the development of stem cell therapies.

The NUI Galway’s Regenerative Medicine Institute REMEDI is researching the stem cell technology, working with the Centre for Cell Manufacturing, to develop treatments for cardiac conditions associated with sudden death. 

The research group includes Dr Terence Prendiville, Clinical Paediatric Cardiologist at the National Children’s Research Centre, based at the Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Professor Tim O’Brien and Sanbing Shen, Director of the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC) programme at NUI Galway. 

Funding from the Cormac Trust will support stem cell research to investigate causes and potential cures for Long QT syndrome (LQTS). 

Dr Terence Prendiville said: “Sudden unexplained death in the young tragically strikes approximately 160 families a year on the island of Ireland. This is often the first time a family comes to medical attention and the condition may affect up to half of close relatives, unbeknownst to them.

“Our research allows us for the first time to study heart cells - from someone who is alive or from someone who has died - to try and discover the cause of death, if unknown, and to develop genetic cures that will be the treatment of the future.”

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