NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 13, 2005

Researchers have identified a possible biological marker -- blood levels of what are called endothelial progenitor cells -- that could be used to predict the occurrence of major heart attacks, cardiac deaths and other cardiovascular events, particularly among patients with advanced stages of heart disease, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Saarland in Germany are among the first to link the levels of these cells with cardiac deaths and other adverse cardiovascular incidents. They divided 519 patients into three groups based on their baseline levels of endothelial progenitor cells and traced them over a 12 month period.

  • During the study, 43 patients died, with 23 deaths from cardiovascular events; 163 required vascularization procedures and 186 were hospitalized because of cardiovascular events, such as chest pains, heart attacks and arrhythmia.
  • The risk of death among patients with low levels of endothelial progenitor cells is three times as great as those with higher levels, and the incidence of heart attacks, hospitalization and the need for angioplasty is significantly more frequent among the low-level group compared with their higher level counterparts.
  • The data showed the cumulative survival and event-free rate increased in proportion to the baseline levels of endothelial progenitor cells.

Endothelial progenitor cells are produced in the bone marrow and circulate in the blood stream to, among other things, repair damage to the lining of blood vessels, say the researchers. Such damage occurs when plaque breaks off from the blood vessel walls. Researchers say for those with low levels of these cells, it is difficult to keep up with the rate of damage occurring.

Source: Joseph Pereira, "Biological Marker May Help Predict Heart-Attack Risk," Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2005; and Nikos Werner et al., "Circulating Endothelial Progenitor Cells and Cardiovascular Outcomes," Vol. 353:999-1007, No. 10, September 8, 2005.

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