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Doctors link skater's death to genetic defect

June 28, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 a.m. EDT

From Reporter Aileen Pincus

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Scientists at Johns Hopkins University think that they know more about the death last November of Olympic gold medalist Sergei Grinkov. Grinkov, like millions of other people, carried a defective gene that scientists now know contributes to heart disease.

Grinkov and his wife Ekaterina Gordeeva, two-time Olympic gold medalists in pairs ice skating, were practicing in Lake Placid, New York, for a professional ice show last winter when 28-year- old Grinkov suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Image of Grinkov's family

Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, an associate professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University, was among those stunned by the news. "I thought, 'Gosh, why would a young individual like him die of a heart attack,'" Goldschmidt said.

Grinkov wasn't on any medication, didn't smoke and was in superb condition. His heart attack was blamed on a blocked artery, but Goldschmidt suspected something more was at work. He and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins recently discovered a gene which may promote blood clots and contribute to heart attacks.

Two weeks after Grinkov's death, a blood sample was flown to Johns Hopkins for testing. "And so what we found is that he was actually positive. He had one of the two factors that was positive for the abnormality," said Goldschmidt. Up to 20 percent of the general population may carry the same gene.

Image of lab test

Researchers at Johns Hopkins believe a simple test to find the gene will be widely available in two to three years. Goldschmidt said researchers believe they will be able to define subgroups of patients who should be tested.

Because heart disease is treatable, doctors believe an early diagnosis could be critical in helping those, like Grinkov, who show no other symptoms of the disease.

"There are things that can be done in general, like taking a tablet of aspirin, that have been shown over and over again to prevent the disease from developing," Goldschmidt said.

Nobody can know whether anything could have been done to prevent Sergei Grinkov's death. But his life has inspired the Johns Hopkins scientists working to find the answer to heart disease. The gene they have discovered is called the Grinkov risk.

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