Biomarker eyed as key to aortic aneurysm blood test

U.S. researchers say they've identified a biomarker that could help spot types of aortic aneurysms and dissections much better than current diagnostic practices allow. Someday, their discovery could lead to a blood test that could aid those vulnerable to both conditions.

A team from Shriners Hospital for Children and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland worked on the project with Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. The journal Circulation Research published their findings.

Their work revolves around fibrillin-1, a protein that helps support the body's connective tissue and blood vessels. Damage to both appears to spur high levels of the protein. And it turns out that large amounts of fibrillin-1 are much more common in people with thoracic aortic aneurysms than in patients with other kinds of aortic aneurysms. As well, elevated levels of the protein appear in patients with aortic dissection, the researchers said, which takes place when the aorta experiences a tear. Both conditions can lead to death if left untreated.

Fibrilin-1 is also known as the Marfan gene, and patients with Marfan syndrome have a significantly higher risk of developing aortic dissections. But other patients can be vulnerable to aortic dissections (and aneurysms). The idea is that the discovery could lead to the development of a biomarker test that helps Marfan patients, plus others in the broader population at risk of aortic aneurysms and dissections. 

It would be a major boost to the standard of care. Right now, both aortic aneurysms and dissections are diagnosed through MRI, CT scanning and other types of imaging. Without imaging technology, they're often misdiagnosed as heart attacks. More than 10,000 patients die each year in the U.S. from both conditions, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited by the researchers.

While the findings are promising, more work is needed before the research team can come up with a definitive test. Next, they'll measure fibrillin-1 levels in patients at high risk for aortic aneurysms over several years. That data, they said, will help determine if their test is sensitive enough to monitor development of aortic aneurysms or detect a dissection in the making.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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