Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered a new contributor to atherosclerosis, the most common form of hardening of the arteries. Marked by cholesterol-calcium-lipid deposits, atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart attacks, the number one killer in the U.S. Doctors at U.Va. say research on mice has determined for the first time that activated platelets circulating in the blood, long understood as markers for atherosclerosis, really serve as participants in the process that eventually leads to atherosclerosis. The findings of the two-year study are published in the Dec. 16 online issue of the journal Nature Medicine, found at www.nature.com/naturemedicine.
"These platelets are time bombs in the blood," said Dr. Klaus Ley, director of the Cardiovascular Research Center and professor of biomedical engineering, molecular physiology and biological physics at U.Va. "The hope now is that we can develop anti-platelet drugs to limit activation, which would be a beneficial, effective preventive measure against heart attack. These important observations could translate into improved therapies for limiting this extremely prevalent disease."
There is a commonly used test for activated platelets, called flow cytometry. Ley believes some patients may want to be tested for the presence of such platelets, in addition to being tested for a compound called C-reactive protein (CRP), which increases when inflammation is present. The American Heart Association is studying whether a CRP test should be part of a routine check-up. "What was surprising is how long these activated platelets stay in the blood," Ley said.
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