UNMC team finds early heart disease warning with simple blood test

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Geoff Thiele, Ph.D.
It's a virtual certainty that everyone over 50 - more than 98 million Americans -has coronary artery disease. So do 70 percent of 40-year-olds. About half of people in their 20s and 30s probably have it too.

Yet heart disease doesn't kill everybody.

Understanding why has been a confounding riddle for modern medicine.

An team of researchers at UNMC believe they've made a potentially groundbreaking discovery -- a test that determines whether a patient is harboring the dangerous type of heart disease that kills one in four Americans every year.

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Michael Duryee
Unfortunately, that heart attack is too often the first indication that a patient has the lethal form of coronary artery disease. But UNMC's new test could change that.

Geoff Thiele, Ph.D. a professor of internal medicine, and Michael Duryee, a research coordinator for the division of rheumatology and immunology, made the initial discovery. While looking for clues to help understand inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, they focused on a molecule that is a strong indicator of inflammation.

Known as MAA or malondialdehyde-acetaldehyde, the molecule also appeared to indicate the presence of coronary artery disease.

Dr. Thiele and Duryee brought in Dan Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in cardiology. He has a frontline view of the battle against the world's most prolific killer.

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Dan Anderson, M.D., Ph.D.
"In the current realm of understanding disease, we know that inflammation is important in cardiovascular disease," Dr. Anderson said. "But we really don't understand a lot about why or how."

By current measures, Anderson said, about 30 percent of people with heart disease slip through the cracks. For those people, the first indication of trouble may be a killer heart attack.

But others with the disease suffer few, if any, ill-effects. Predicting which patients will develop the more deadly form of heart disease is little more than a guess.

Then Dr. Thiele and Duryee knocked on the door.

"From a clinical diagnostic perspective, this becomes invaluable to help understand those different groups of patients," Dr. Anderson said.

The research team and UNMC's technology transfer office, UNeMed Corporation, are currently in preliminary discussions with several companies on how to translate the results into products that can better factor in a patient's risk of heart attack.

The next rounds of testing will be critical to understand how accurate the test can be, particularly studies that follow individual patients over the course of five or 10 years, Duryee said.


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