Chimpanzees Found To Have Heart Disease Similar To Humans
August 30, 2013

Chimpanzees Found To Have Heart Disease Similar To Humans

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

During the last century, there have been several documented examples of young, healthy athletes who have died suddenly of heart disease during competitive sporting events.

A new study, published in Veterinary Pathology, finds Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a human heart disease that causes sudden cardiac death in teenagers and young adults (particularly healthy athletes), extends to chimpanzees.

"It is the first description of this condition in a primate species apart from humans," stated Dr. Lydia Tong, Veterinary Pathology Resident at the University of Sydney. "The circumstances of these two cases in chimpanzees mirror the common presentation of the condition in humans. The two half-brother chimps were teenagers apparently at their peak health (16 and 17 years old), and one of the chimps died suddenly during physical exertion."

The chimpanzees died in 2004 and 2008 while living at a zoo in the UK. Professor Mary Sheppard, Reader in Cardiovascular Pathology, National Heart and Lung Institute and Consultant Cardiac Pathologist at the Department of Histopathology, Royal Brompton Hospital, was part of the team of scientists who performed the autopsies.

Sheppard, a specialist in Human Sudden Cardiac Death, examined the chimpanzee’s hearts as she would normally do for a young person who died in similar circumstances. The examination revealed the changes in these hearts were nearly identical to those examined in humans.

"The big question is -- what causes the disease in chimpanzees, and what are the common factors with human disease?" Dr. Tong stated. "In humans we know that there is a genetic component in about 50 percent of cases but the other factors are not well understood. It has been theorized that viral exposure, levels of exercise, and dietary variables may influence development of the condition in humans. More work needs to be done to determine if the same genetic changes may be occurring in affected chimpanzees, and whether other influences at play."

Dr Tong sees important implications for future research in the findings of this study.

"The bottom line is that this finding and similar future research will assist us in understanding and managing this disease of young otherwise healthy chimps, a tremendously important and endangered species. Furthermore, as the closest relative to the human, future research has the potential to help us understand the same disease in humans."