Blood could predict heart disease risk

LOS ANGELES Despite all the advances in screening, there's no simple formula to figure out who is going to develop heart disease. Now scientists say all you'll need is a single drop of blood to predict your future heart health.

Like many Americans, Samuella Williams-Holmes lost her mother to heart disease. Now she's dealing with her own high-blood-pressure problem.

"Diabetes and heart disease is in our family, and we know we have to be careful," said Samuella. "We have to watch it."

Soon there could be a way for doctors to predict if Samuella will follow in her family's footsteps and develop heart disease, too.

"Once you can predict who's going to get it and you can detect it in its early phases, then you can use that information to develop new treatment algorithms, new treatment options," said cardiologist Dr. Michael Zile.

Dr. Zile and cardiovascular specialist scientist Dr. Frank Spinale developed a first-of-a-kind test -- a laser-driven computer system that measures up to 99 proteins. They're focusing on 25 that can pinpoint the risk of heart failure.

"So what we hope to do is to be able to measure those 25 proteins in a tiny, tiny drop of blood," said Dr. Spinale.

So far, research shows the blood test works. With that information, doctors may be able pick out which patients will likely develop heart disease and treat them before they show symptoms.

"So what's in it for the patient is a longer life, a better life, and a likelihood of not developing heart failure," said Dr. Zile.

Samuella will continue to exercise and take medication to control her blood pressure, but she hopes this test will save others from the fear of uncertainty.

"I hope this makes some kind of difference for someone else. I pray that it does," said Samuella.

The simple blood test should be available in five years or less. Doctors expect new medications will be developed to target and alter the markers in the blood that have been shown to cause harm. So in the future, doctors hope knowing your risk and taking new medications will prevent heart disease from ever developing.

In the meantime, keep an eye on your blood pressure. Hypertension often leads to heart disease and later heart failure.

For more information:

A Deadly Disease: Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. It kills one person every 34 seconds. Many people have hypertensive heart disease, which is heart disease caused by high blood pressure. Worldwide, nearly one billion people have high blood pressure. In the United States, about one in three adults have high blood pressure, totaling 73 million people in this country alone. Statistics from 2004 show of all people with high blood pressure, 61.4 percent were under current treatment, 35.1 percent had it under control, and 64.9 percent did not have it controlled. High blood pressure often leads to heart disease, which in turn, can lead to heart failure. Once diagnosed with heart failure, 70 percent of people die within five years.

Anatomy of the Heart: Michael Zile, M.D., a cardiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, equates the heart's structure to bricks and mortar. The bricks are the cardiac muscle cells that contract and relax. The mortar consists of proteins called the extracellular matrix, a supporting structure for cells. When babies are forming in the womb, enzymes instruct this matrix how to build itself and make the heart muscle cells work as they should. After the heart is fully formed (while the baby is still in the womb), those enzymes turn off, or go to sleep. Then, years later, especially in people with high blood pressure or in people who have had a heart attack, those enzymes wake up. Dr. Zile explains that too much -- or too little -- of the enzymes' influence can affect the way the heart performs in a negative way. "It might be that the heart is trying to heal itself and reawakens things it knows it needs to shape and fix, but it is a really bad plan," Dr. Zile told Ivanhoe.

A New Test: Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have developed and are testing a new way to measure and track the level of those enzymes in the heart. "We're looking for changes in the blood that reflect changes in the heart," Dr. Zile explained. "The specific kinds of proteins and peptides we're looking for are those that reflect the changes that occur in the function and the structure of the heart." By measuring these specific enzymes, Dr. Zile said, "We think we can understand why some patients with hypertension develop heart failure and others don't; and we think we can predict which patients are going to develop heart failure and which are not and we can determine who's got heart failure early on so that we can treat it in the reversible phase." He says if heart failure is caught early, it can likely be reversed, but when it's well developed it's difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

The new test is a blood test using a laser-drive computer system that can measure up to 25 markers in the blood in up to 100 patients simultaneously. The test is still under study at the Medical University of South Carolina, but researchers there believe the test will be available nationwide within five years.

Get information on the heart risk study by the Medical University of South Carolina

Interested study participants can call (843) 876-5010.


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