Cleveland Clinic spinoff rolls out gut bacteria test to predict heart disease risk

Researchers have been focusing on gut bacteria and its potential links to heart disease for a while. Now, Cleveland Clinic spinoff Cleveland HeartLab is rolling with those findings and launching a new test that looks at a byproduct of gut bacteria to predict a person's risk of cardiovascular disease.

The clinical test measures levels of TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide), a substance produced by gut bacteria that people get by eating certain foods. The presence of TMAO could explain why individuals who have diets rich in red meat and dairy products often develop heart disease, the company said in a statement.

Dr. Michael Roizen

By harnessing TMAO, the new test could help flag potential heart attacks, stroke and death in patients who seem healthy, Cleveland HeartLab said. "TMAO could be a major missing piece of the puzzle of our understanding of cardiovascular disease," Cleveland Clinic Foundation Chief Wellness Officer Michael Roizen said in a statement. "With this new information, we can better assess the heart attack risk and overall heart health of each individual patient and help guide them to make the specific lifestyle changes best suited for their unique risk."

The company has already chalked up promising data for the test in scientific journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Scientists are also looking at a potential dietary-based therapy for cardiovascular disease associated with TMAO. A recent study published in Cell showed that a certain compound could prevent gut bacteria from producing TMAO. The finding could pave the way for a new treatment with a similar mechanism that regulates TMAO levels.

The test launch comes months after Cleveland HeartLab said that it would team up with Cleveland Clinic and Procter & Gamble ($PG) to develop and market a diagnostic based on TMAO. In August 2015, the company announced that it would flesh out its heart disease risk test while Cleveland Clinic researchers work with Cincinnati, OH-based P&G to develop an over-the-counter product for managing TMAO levels.

- here's the statement

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