In atherosclerosis, cholesterol thickens or hardens the walls of the arteries. But there are no symptoms until it's too late, and the patient has a heart attack or stroke. However, a team of researchers from the University of Virginia has found a group of biomarkers that might help physicians detect this silent killer.
The researchers took samples of white blood cells, known as monocytes, from people with inherited high blood fat and cholesterol levels (familial hyperlipidemia), in addition to atherosclerosis, and looked for increased levels of expression of particular genes. The team found 363 genetic biomarkers that could be linked with this increased risk and then cut these down to 56 by including just the genes linked with inflammation, lipid, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and the maintenance of blood cells, all known to be associated with higher levels of atherosclerosis.
In the study published in BMC Medical Genomics, the resulting biomarker panel picked out the people at particularly high risk of developing future atherosclerosis using blood samples.
A blood test based on these biomarkers could be used to screen for and detect people at high risk of atherosclerosis, enabling doctors to offer lifestyle advice and preventive medication before the damage is done.