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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Heart disease clue uncovered
Lab work
A blood enzyme may be linked to heart disease
Scientists have discovered a tell-tale indicator of heart disease.

Heart disease is thought to be caused by many different factors, which effect individual patients in differing ways.

A team from the University of Glasgow has found that it may be possible to identify some at-risk patients by monitoring the levels of an enzyme carried in the blood.

Those with developing heart disease are likely to carry higher than normal levels of the enzyme, lipoprotein - associated phospholipase A2 (LpPLA2).

We have found something new which improves our ability to tell whether someone is at risk of getting heart disease or not

Professor Chris Packard, University of Glasgow

Professor Chris Packard, of the University of Glasgow's Department of Pathological Biochemistry at the Royal Infirmary said: "We have found something new that we can measure and which improves our ability to tell whether someone is at risk of getting heart disease or not.

"This has implications for better targeting of expensive drugs (statins) used in the prevention of heart disease."

Professor Packard said the findings also gave a new insight into the processes that lead to heart disease.

It appears that LpPLA2 travels in the blood, and under the right conditions attacks molecules of potentially damaging LDL-cholesterol.

This produces inflammatory fat products which then cause havoc in the artery wall.

They can cause cell death, blood clotting, the rupture of large cholesterol deposits - and in some cases stimulate a heart attack.

The findings may also explain why some people with average cholesterol levels get heart attacks - they may have high levels of this enzyme.

New drugs

The discovery of the enzyme also paves the way for new drug treatments designed to inhibit its effect.

The drug company SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals has already made progress in this area.

If we can target cholesterol-lowering drugs more effectively then lives can be saved

Professor Michael Davies, British Heart Foundation

However, several years of further research will be required before any drug is made commercially available.

Professor Michael Davies, Assistant Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Coronary heart disease is the UK's number one killer disease and almost half of all the deaths are associated with raised cholesterol levels.

"If we can target cholesterol-lowering drugs more effectively to prevent the development of heart disease then lives can be saved."

This latest research is an outcome of further analysis of the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS) carried out in the mid-1990s.

The trial recruited 6,595 men with high LDL cholesterol levels but with no history of heart disease.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, is reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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