Cate School Launches Long-Term Study to Monitor Adolescent and Young Adult Hearts

When completed, the study will provide valuable data on the need and efficacy of screening of young hearts for hidden forms of heart disease.

Cate School, an independent boarding and day school in Carpinteria, California, has launched an eight-year research study to monitor the cardiovascular health of adolescent and young adult hearts. The study, believed to be among the first long-term studies on this age group in the U.S., has enrolled approximately 50 participants so far, ranging in ages from 14 to 18.

“We have an ideal setting in which to collect this data,” says Wade Ransom, director of athletics at Cate, and co-investigator of the study. “We have the ability to offer study participation to our entire school population, monitor those who participate while at Cate, and continue to observe them as they progress through adolescence and into adulthood. The baseline data we gather will further efforts to determine effective cardiac screening methods for this age group.”

Dr. Joseph Ilvento, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and the principal investigator of “The Cate Study,” concurs.

“While there has been extensive study of adult hearts,” he says, “data on young hearts is more limited. The goal of this study is to evaluate a cost-effective protocol for detecting heart abnormalities among young people. We hope to provide a safe method of examination that is more sensitive than a physical examination or the physician’s stethoscope; a method that can be generalized to all high schools.” Ilvento adds that high school time frame — an age by which virtually all young adults have reached maturity — is ideal for such testing.

According to American Heart Association statistics, a small number of young men and women worldwide die suddenly during athletic activity from a previously undetected heart abnormality. A conservative estimate of such incidents is 1 in 200,000. Past studies have utilized physical examinations, questionnaires, electrocardiograms, and on occasion, echocardiography (an ultrasound of the heart) in an attempt to develop a cost-effective screening method for high school athletes with these rare conditions.

Results from Cate’s research may help to answer the question about which method, or combination of methods, is effective in screening young hearts.

Participants in the research protocol will undergo an initial screening, consisting of a health questionnaire, a limited echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram. The echocardiogram, a short and painless procedure, takes a moving picture of the heart by bouncing sounds waves into the chest and measuring their reflection. The electrocardiogram is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart, which can detect rare genetic abnormalities. All results will be examined by a board-certified cardiologist, and compared against future data.

Participation in the study is voluntary, and all students, both athlete and non-athlete, have been invited to enroll. Subjects will be asked to undergo follow-up assessments over the eight-year period of the study. The ideal participant would enroll during freshman year, undergo follow-up testing as a senior, and be tested again during the subject’s first Cate reunion.

Results will be published at intervals during the study, as well as at its conclusion.

The Cate Study also provides an educational opportunity for students at the School. Several of them, under the supervision of Ilvento and Ransom, have been involved in the design of the protocol and the approval process, and are actively involved in the data analysis, providing a chance for them to participate in a scientific investigation from its hypothesis to publication of data.

Ilvento is a parent of Cate student who is not participating in the study.

Enrollment in the study is ongoing, and will continue for a minimum of four years.

The study is being conducted with the approval and oversight of the Institutional Review Board of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital has generously donated the use of an echocardiogram machine for the study. Physician and technician time and expertise is being provided on a voluntary basis.


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