Biomarker can nip hardening of arteries in the bud

Washington: A new set of biomarkers could identify atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- at the earliest stages and prevent thousands of untimely deaths.

Atherosclerosis brings on coronary heart disease, stroke and heart attacks and kills by stealth. Most people do not realize they have it until they have cardiovascular disease.

"This biomarker test, which only requires a blood sample, could be further developed to predict the risk of silent atherosclerosis in clinical practice," said study co-author Eleen Keeley, from the University of Virginia, which identified these biomarkers, the journal BMC Medical Genomics reports.

A biomarker refers to a protein in blood whose concentration reflects the severity or presence of some disease state, according to a Virginia statement.

Virginia researchers compared biomarkers isolated from monocytes (type of white blood cells) in patients with a family history of high cholesterol levels (familial hypercholesterolemia) to healthy controls.

Three hundred and sixty three genes were found to be differentially regulated (turned up or down) between the two groups. Familial hypercholesterolemia is a well-known genetic disease caused by a mutation in the LDL (bad cholestrerol) receptor which causes early onset atherosclerosis.

People with two copies of the mutated LDL receptor have an even higher risk of atherosclerosis than those with one mutated and one normal copy.

Feng Cheng and the team were able to reduce this initial set to 56 genes by focusing on genes directly involved in inflammation, lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and genes known to be responsible for the maintenance of blood cells.

Jae Lee, who led the study, explained: "By splitting our 56 genes into three sets. . . we found that we could further refine our test and separate out the very high risk group."