A Better Blood Test for Heart Disease?

The screen spots cells body uses for self-repair, researchers say

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MONDAY, March 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A more accurate method of testing for endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) -- which circulate in the bloodstream and repair damage to arterial lining -- could become a common way to assess heart disease, researchers report.

Patients with lower levels of circulating EPCs are less able to repair cardiac damage and have more advanced coronary artery disease, putting them at greater risk for a heart attack, note a team of Duke University Medical Center cardiologists who developed the new technique for measuring EPC levels.

They reported on the technique Sunday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, in Atlanta.

Current methods for measuring EPCS are subjective and time-consuming, the Duke team said. The new method checks for amounts of a detoxification enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which is produced in high amounts by EPCs.

"Our studies have shown that using ALDH activity to determine the numbers of EPCs in a blood sample might be a better method for identifying and measuring EPC levels in patients with heart disease than currently used methods," Duke cardiologist Dr. Thomas Povsic said in a prepared statement.

"In order for the use of EPC to become practical in human patients, we need an assay that is quick, reliable and accurate. Since there are so few EPCs circulating, we literally need a method that can find a needle in a haystack. Our tests so far using ALDH activity to measure EPCs represents a novel approach to solving this problem" he said.

More information

The American Association for Clinical Chemistry has more about cardiac risk assessment.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 12, 2006

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