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Blood Biomarker Can Help Predict Imminent Heart Attack Risks

Blood test (NIH)

National Institutes of Health

Research conducted by Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California discovered a potential biomarker found in a patient’s blood that can help predict if that person is at imminent risk of a heart attack. The findings of Scripps’s Eric Topol and colleagues appear in this week’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine (paid subscription required).

The need for better predictive tests for heart attack arises from the large number of heart attack victims and the lack of reliable predictors. The study cites statistics showing 2.5 million Americans each year experience a new or recurrent heart attack or ischemic stroke. Moreover, heart attack and stroke can occur in as many as half of the population with few, if any, risk factors of coronary artery disease, such as hypertension, elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and diabetes.

Circulating endothelial cells (CECs) have been associated with acute coronary events, but the field has lacked a practical and widely accepted way of measuring CECs. Topol’s team — with colleagues from Scripps, three California hospitals, and diagnostics developer Veridex LLC in Raritan, New Jersey — studied the role of CECs in 50 heart attack patients admitted to emergency rooms at clinics and hospitals in San Diego. The researchers compared the CECs of these heart attack patients to those of 44 healthy individuals in a control group.

The researchers took blood samples from all patients in the study, then used Veridex’s CellSearch system, an automated flourescent assay, consisting of a sample preparation device and separate analyzer system. The team isolated and characterized the CECs in heart attack victims, and noted any differences with the healthy control group.

The findings show that CECs from heart attack patients, when compared to healthy individuals, were abnormally large and misshapen and often appeared with multiple nuclei. The team also found much higher (by 400 percent) CEC counts in heart attack patients, and no correlation between age and CEC count. The results indicate that CECs are promising biomarkers for the prediction of acute arterial rupture from fatty cholesterol build-up that occurs in heart attacks and ischemic strokes.

These findings could lead to a simple blood test for use in emergency rooms to discover if a patient is in danger of a heart attack, says Raghava Gollapudi, who directed the study for Sharp Health Care, one of the participating San Diego hospitals. “With some additional validation, the hope is to have this test developed for commercial use in the next year or two,” notes Gollapudi. “This would be an ideal test to perform in an emergency room to determine if a patient is on the cusp of a heart attack or about to experience one in the next couple of weeks.”

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