June 28 - A microchip test that can detect hidden heart defects in professional athletes is set to go on sale this autumn. Designed by researchers at Lisbon Technical University, the test promises to uncover DNA mutations which can preempt hard-to-spot diseases that have led to a string of sudden deaths of top flight sports stars in recent years. Jim Drury reports.
STORY: Soccer star Piermario Morosini's death on the field in April shocked Italy. Portuguese scientists believe their new DNA microchip test can prevent such a tragedy recurring. Lisbon Technical University researchers say the test detects DNA mutations which can cause hard-to-spot diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease characterised by a thickening of the heart wall and affects one person in 500. SOUNDBITE (Portuguese) COMPUTER ENGINEER ANA FREITAS, SAYING: "At this moment what we can do with this chip is evaluating 32 genes, all of them related to cardio hypertrophy and therefore to sudden death. We can do it very quickly. We can give an answer in four weeks and in a very complete way." The microchips contain DNA obtained from a blood test and are read by laser. Existing tests take five times longer. A series of tragedies have hit the soccer world in recent years. Sevilla's Daniel Jarque died from a massive heart attack during a pre-season training camp. Compatriot Antonio Puerto and Cameroonian international Marc-Vivien Foe lost their lives after collapsing during high-profile matches. And in March Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba survived after receiving 15 defibrillator shocks to restart his heart. It's no surprise that soccer clubs and federations have ordered thousands of chips from Soccer High Performance Gest, the company marketing it. Chief executive Pedro Ribeiro. SOUNDBITE (Portuguese) PEDRO RIBEIRO, CEO OF SOCCER HIGH PERFORMANCE GEST (SHPG), SAYING: "In this moment we are trying to negotiate with 18 countries at a global level. We are negotiating with federations, clubs, and other private enterprises. We have signed four deals, three outside Europe and one in Europe so far." The tests will help doctors identify apparently healthy sports stars at risk of sudden cardiac death if subjected to excessive physical stress. From September a brand new laboratory will analyse the tests. If at-risk players can be identified and treated, tragic sporting deaths like that of Piermario Morosini could become a thing of the past. Jim Drury, Reuters