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August 27, 2002


What Happens In Blood Vessels BEFORE Heart Disease Is Evident?
Emory Researchers Search For Early Changes

High cholesterol, hypertension, stress, excess weight, smoking and lack of exercise --- scientists know these are all risk factors that 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. Emory cardiologists David Harrison, MD, principal investigator of the Emory-based MOST study, and William Weintraub, MD, co-investigator, 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 our 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," says Dr. Harrison. "Oxidation leads to depletion of important nutrients in our blood vessel, 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 that are being studied include blood levels of glutathione, antibodies against oxidized LDL, cholesterol and homocysteine. Levels of C-reactive protein are also being measured. The 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 percentage of body fat. 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," says Dr. Harrison.

Physicians who have patients interested in participating as research subjects in the MOST study, can call Steven Rhodes, RN Research Coordinator, at (404) 712-8832 for more information.

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