Science

Protein important marker of heart disease: researchers

People with high levels of a particular protein are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, says a team of international researchers who cut short trials after finding the risk drops by nearly half if patients are treated with statin medications.

People with high levels of a particular protein are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, says a team of international researchers who cut short trials after discovering the risk drops by nearly half if patients are treated with statin medications.

"The risk of cardiovascular disease due to increased hs-CRP (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) levels has been greatly underestimated until now," according to Dr. Jacques Genest, director of McGill University Health Unit's cardiology division.

'This takes prevention to a whole new level, because it applies to patients who we now wouldn't have any evidence to treat.'—Dr. W. Douglas Weaver, American College of Cardiology

"Our results show that this is an extremely important indicator that doctors will have to consider in the future," he said in a release.

Genest led the Canadian component of the clinical study, initiated by Dr. Paul Ridker of the Harvard University Faculty of Medicine.

The results, reported Sunday at an American Heart Association conference in New Orleans, were hailed as a watershed event in heart disease prevention.

Participants received statin drug daily

The study followed nearly 18,000 patients from 27 different countries. All had normal levels of cholesterol (LDL-c) and high levels of hs-CRP, and as such were not considered at risk for cardiovascular disease, and were therefore not receiving any treatment.

Study participants received a daily dose of the statin drug rosuvastin. They experienced a 44 per cent decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 per cent decrease in mortality.

"These results definitely surpassed our predictions," Genest said. "We had to stop the study before its scheduled completion, as the benefit of the treatment for the selected patients was so great that we needed to present our findings to the medical community as soon as possible."

Since statins have a cholesterol-lowering effect, they are currently used to prevent cardiovascular disease in patients who are at risk due to high LDL-c levels. But cardiovascular disease is also caused by vascular inflammation, marked by high levels of hs-CRP.

The study shows statins act on both cholesterol and inflammation, an effect that has long been suspected but not proven.

Astra Zeneca, a pharmaceutical company that markets rosuvastatin under the brand name Crestor, funded the study.

Doctors said the findings might lead more people to consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

"This takes prevention to a whole new level, because it applies to patients who we now wouldn't have any evidence to treat," said Dr. W. Douglas Weaver, a Detroit cardiologist and president of the American College of Cardiology.

The study also gives the best evidence yet for using a new blood test for the protein to identify people who may need treatment, say doctors.

With files from the Associated Press

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