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September 30, 2002

Study looks for early evidence of heart disease

By Sherry Baker

High cholesterol, hypertension, stress, excess weight, smoking and lack of exercise—scientists know all these risk factors play important roles in the development of heart disease. But what actually happens inside blood vessels at the very beginning of atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty plaques within arteries that can partially or completely block blood flow, leading to heart attack and stroke)?

Emory Heart Center researchers are conducting the MOST (Markers of Oxidative Stress) study to help find out. Cardiologists David Harrison, principal investigator of the study, and co-investigator William Weintraub believe markers of oxidative stress and inflammation could hold the key to understanding early vascular changes linked to atherosclerosis. Oxidative stress is a condition where blood vessels begin to make too many free radicals, overcoming the natural protective factors in our cells.

“In recent years, we have recognized that oxidative stress is an important factor in the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease,” Harrison said. “Oxidation leads to depletion of important nutrients in our blood vessels, leading to atherosclerotic plaque formation. Oxidation reactions cause blood levels of certain substances to be elevated. The MOST study will help us identify how those substances correlate with artherosclerosis that isn’t yet clinically evident.”

Some of the markers being studied include blood levels of glutathione, antibodies against oxidized LDL, cholesterol and homocysteine, as well as levels of C-reactive protein. Results to date suggest that levels of these markers may be used to indicate oxidative stress and inflammation are taking place in the body.

This information will be correlated along with information on study participants’ activity levels, diets, stress levels and body fat percentage. Then the data will be compared to ultrasound measurements of the volunteers’ carotid and brachial arteries which will show signs of thickening if early atherosclerotic plaques are present.

“The MOST study can help us understand the most basic causes of atherosclerosis and, most importantly, it could eventually allow us to start treatment before any disease is clinically evident,” Harrison said.

Physicians who have patients interested in participating as research subjects in the study
can call research coordinator Steven Rhodes at 404-712-8832 for more information.