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Project Baseline launches Heart Biomarker Study to advance research around new heart disease risk factor

| Written by:
Svati Shah

Svati Shah

Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Duke University School of Medicine

Heart disease causes one in four deaths in the United States annually. To combat America's greatest health threat, Project Baseline today announced the Heart Biomarker Study to advance research around a little-understood blood particle that's considered an emerging risk factor for heart disease: lipoprotein(a).

Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), is a biological marker (or "biomarker") similar to cholesterol: when elevated, it increases the risk of blockages in the arteries that cause heart attacks and strokes. One in five Americans is estimated to have high levels of Lp(a), which are determined by genetics1. And although existing research suggests that Lp(a) plays a pivotal role in heart health, no targeted treatments are currently available. Today, individuals with high Lp(a) are mostly treated with statin medications to manage cholesterol2.

As the director of the Duke Adult Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic, I care for patients with heart-related genetic disorders, and their families. Helping patients prevent a recurrence of cardiac events is an important part of my practice, and my core focus as a researcher. For patients with a greater genetic risk profile, I strongly believe that we need more effective preventive treatments. Over the past two years, I've worked closely with the Project Baseline team to determine how we may be able to help improve outcomes for the 85.6 million Americans affected by heart disease. Learning more about Lp(a) — and particularly how it impacts heart patients — could be a key piece of this.

The Heart Biomarker Study is an observational research study that will collect the health records of eligible participants who have experienced a heart attack or stroke. Participants will also learn their Lp(a) level through a specialized blood test at their local lab.

For a cardiology researcher, the opportunity to focus on Lp(a) in heart attack and stroke survivors is compelling. To date, Lp(a) research has not been able to completely understand how levels of the biomarker impact the risk of a second heart attack or stroke among those who have already suffered a cardiac event. One in four of the more than 795,000 strokes that occur per year are actually experienced by people who have had a previous stroke. Similarly, about 27% of yearly heart attacks happen to people who have experienced a heart attack before. The Heart Biomarker Study is specifically designed to help identify how Lp(a) affects this population, in order to better understand how to potentially reduce the risk of subsequent events.

To improve health for all, there are many areas that require deeper scientific exploration. Heart disease, which causes more than one death per minute, is one of the most critical. Building on the Project Baseline Health Study — a landmark endeavor to delineate the transition from health to disease — the Heart Biomarker Study is an important step in Project Baseline's mission to map human health. Research Goes Red, Project Baseline's collaboration with the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement, launched in February to improve the representation of women in heart research. Now, the Heart Biomarker Study joins these efforts to increase the speed of discoveries, and ultimately improve healthcare.

If you've experienced a heart attack or stroke, you may be eligible to participate in the Heart Biomarker Study. Learn more about the Heart Biomarker Study and Lp(a), and consider getting involved.

1. "Understanding Lipoprotein(a)," Lipoprotein(a) Foundation.

2. "Guidelines and Lp(a)," Lipoprotein(a) Foundation.

Next story: Dr. Reed Tuckson's insights from the first Project Baseline Advisory Board meeting

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