Are DNA particles in the blood a viable way to spot coronary artery disease?

An international team of researchers from Boston and The Netherlands see DNA fragments in the blood as potential markers of coronary artery disease. Their work is published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

"If those markers are proven to be effective--specific and sensitive--they may improve medical care in terms of identifying patients at risk sooner," lead author Julian Borissoff, a postdoctoral research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

The team discovered a direct corollary between elevated levels of both DNA particles in the blood and coronary artery calcium deposits. They note that patients with inflammatory conditions like coronary artery disease often experience a release of small DNA particles in the blood, so those fragments could, in theory, serve as a reliable marker to help identify patients with narrowed coronary arteries, who are at high risk of a more serious heart problem.

To generate their data, the research team looked at 282 adult and elderly patients who complained of chest pain and had possible coronary artery disease. They followed about half for 18 months or longer. Computed tomography imaging helped identify the calcified buildup in blood vessels to the heart, and researchers tested blood samples for genetic material.

More work is needed, of course, to determine if these markers can be both specific and sensitive. If that happens, then doctors could gain another predictive tool to treat coronary artery disease and its complications. For now, they're testing the DNA particles to see which particular ones are most sensitive and to explore how and why their number may vary in the blood. They also envision larger studies down the line that would follow patients over longer periods, and would try to pinpoint how the markers could specifically identify patients who have a high coronary artery disease risk.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract