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Measuring artery repair cells could become new heart disease test

DURHAM, N.C. A more accurate method for measuring blood levels of specialized cells that circulate in the bloodstream and repair damage to the arterial lining has been discovered by Duke University Medical Center cardiologists. These cells, known as endothelial progenitor cells (EPC), are produced in the bone marrow and travel to the site of arterial damage.

The researchers said that tests for EPCs could be used to assess a patient's degree of coronary artery disease or risks for suffering a heart attack, and they could become as routine as the cholesterol and lipid tests cardiologists now commonly use. Patients with lower levels of circulating EPCs would be less able to repair cardiac damage. Thus, they would be those with greater disease and at greater risk for a cardiac event, said the Duke cardiologists

Additionally, the researchers found that the EPC levels correlated with the degree of coronary artery disease. Patients with no coronary artery disease had about 70 percent more EPCs than those who had disease in several coronary vessels.

Recent Duke research has linked the progression of the artery-clogging disease atherosclerosis to the inability of EPCs to continuously repair damage to the arterial lining. Duke researchers have shown that -- while risk factors such as poor diet, smoking, high cholesterol levels and inactivity are important in the development of atherosclerosis --the disease progresses as the body's loses its intrinsic ability to repair and rejuvenate itself.

Current methods for measuring EPCs which can represent as few as one out of 10,000 cells in a given blood sample are subjective and time-consuming, the researchers said. As an indicator of EPC cell levels, the new method uses measurements of the amount of a detoxification enzyme, known as 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
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Contact: Richard Merritt
Merri006@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
12-Mar-2006


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