OHSU Researchers Find New Indicator for Coronary Artery Disease

07/25/02    Portland, Ore.

Clot-forming protein could lead to treatment for nation's No. 1 killer

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have pinpointed a protein in the blood that seems to indicate a high likelihood of heart disease. The protein, gamma-A/gamma-prime fibrinogen, is a component of the clot-forming protein fibrinogen, which is present at varying levels in the blood stream. Researchers have now found that higher levels of gamma-A/gamma-prime fibrinogen, regardless of total fibrinogen, are associated with predisposition to coronary artery disease, the precursor to heart attacks.

The research is published in the July issue of the journal Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

"Fibrinogen is important for the blood's ability to clot effectively," said David Farrell, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology in the OHSU School of Medicine and a member of the OHSU Heart Research Center. "What we're discovering is that high levels of gamma-A/gamma-prime fibrinogen can cause blood clots to form that are resistant to breakdown, possibly leading to greater risk of heart attacks."

Farrell and Rehana Lovely, Ph.D., in collaboration with Penn State hematologist Hamid Al-Mondhiry, M.D., measured the gamma-A/gamma-prime fibrinogen levels in 133 patients with suspected coronary artery disease. They found significantly higher levels of the protein in patients with coronary artery disease than in patients without the disease.

"This is important research because it represents a piece of the coronary disease puzzle that has been mostly ignored heretofore," said Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Heart Research Center and cardiology professor in the School of Medicine. "This finding is novel and could lead to exciting new therapies. In addition, it represents a new element in our understanding of the complexity of coronary artery disease, the No. 1 killer among women and men in this country."

Farrell and Lovely are planning follow-up studies to learn more about the correlation between gamma-A/gamma-prime fibrinogen and heart disease, and to try to discover if the protein is actually a causal factor for heart disease or a byproduct.

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