Predicting Heart Attacks!

FRESNO, Calif.

Three people, one thing in common: heart disease has killed members of their family.

"In the back of my mind, I feel like I'm a little ticking time bomb," Holly Roche, 45 years old, told Ivanhoe.

The odds are not in Roche's favor. She knows her DNA puts her at risk. But what she didn't know -- genes change over time and so can her risk of a heart attack.

"When somebody is healthy, you may not have an expression of certain genes, but when you're sick, you may get an increased level of a certain gene," John A. McPherson, M.D., FACC, FAHA, Cardiologist at Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute in Nashville, TN, said.

Dr. McPherson is one of the first doctors in the country to give a one of its kind blood test that reads a person's genomic expression.

"What this test does is measures the levels of different genes that can change over time," Dr. McPherson explained.

Forty-three year old Larissa Jennings has been feeling tightness in her chest. Her mother, father and grandmother all died from heart disease.

"You can see, I'm a fluffy person as my family would say," Larissa Jennings, 43 years old, stated.

"It's very important that we make sure she's not suffering from coronary artery disease," Dr. McPherson added.

The test measures 23 different genes, focusing on the white blood cells. They're called inflammatory cells because they're activated when plaque builds up in the arteries. Measurements under 25 percent: low risk.

Above 50 percent: high risk. Jennings's results: she had an eight percent likelihood of obstructive disease. Roche's risk: low as well. But this test is for folks who feel out of sorts or have chest pains. What about catching heart failure before the signs kick in?

"I do something every day. Walk. Tennis doubles. I'm a kayaker, and I have a single kayak," Edith Donohue, 72 years old, said.

A lifestyle that helps reduce Donohue's risk of heart failure, but that's not enough for her.

Doctor Christopher deFilippi of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and his team studied a blood test to see what it would reveal in blood samples that were taken over time.

"We found, with this test, two-thirds of older adults in the community had detectable levels," Christopher deFilippi, M.D., Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School ofMedicine, explained.

A highly sensitive version of a cardiac test called Troponin measures Troponin T -- a marker for the process of cell death that causes heart failure. As Troponin levels rise in the blood, so does the risk of heart failure symptoms and death from cardiovascular disease over the next 10 to 15 years.

"It's a great sense of relief," Jennings stated.

"Every time I feel a little twinge, extra beat or skipped beat, I don't go, 'oh my gosh,' because I don't think there's anything wrong with me," Roche concluded.

Two discoveries that could someday alert millions of people who are unknowingly at risk.

If you would like more information, please contact:
Craig Boerner, National News Director
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, TN
Craig.boerner@vanderbilt.edu

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