Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, resulting in the loss of nearly 18 million lives each year. Earlier interventions through drug prescriptions or lifestyle changes are our best hope for saving lives. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a biomarker in the blood that can help pinpoint individuals most at risk of developing heart disease earlier, allowing them to make these changes sooner. The protein, called lipoprotein(a), can be measured easily using standard serological or genetic tests.
Lipoprotein(a) is a type of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-like lipoprotein. Unlike LDL cholesterol (often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol due to its link with an increased risk of getting a heart attack or stroke), lipoprotein(a) has, until now, been under-recognized as a biomarker for heart disease. As a result, its blood levels are rarely measured as part of a patient’s blood work.
Pradeep Natarajan, MD is the lead investigator and senior author of the study that aims to shift the focus onto lipoprotein(a) as a valuable genetic test for cardiovascular disease. “Our work demonstrates that genetic risk scoring of lipoprotein(a) offers risk prediction of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease that’s comparable to directly measured lipoprotein(a),” said Natarajan.
“We learned that genetic determinants of elevated lipoprotein(a) may help identify the most effective medication regimen for cardiovascular disease prevention.”
A person’s lipoprotein(a) levels are heavily influenced (up to 95 percent) by genetics as opposed to diet and physical activity levels. Those with a genetic predisposition to have over 50 milligrams per deciliter lipoprotein(a) concentrations in the blood, are 50 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular conditions.
“Using genetic factors enhances our ability to identify at-risk individuals for cardiovascular disease who could benefit from earlier preventive strategies,” explained Natarajan, who added, “At the same time, genetic testing could help identify candidates for clinical trials who are critical to discovering innovative new therapies to address conditions like elevated lipoprotein(a) and related cardiovascular disease risks.”