Scientists develop new blood test to detect dangerous artery disease

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In a new study from Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that high levels of a specific protein circulating in the blood accurately detect a severe type of peripheral artery disease that narrows the arteries in the legs and can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The protein, called circulating fatty acid synthase (cFAS), is an enzyme that manufactures saturated fatty acids. Until recently, fatty acid synthase was thought to be found only inside cells.

The new finding suggests that fatty acid synthase also circulates in the bloodstream and may have an important role in the plaque formation characteristic of cardiovascular disease.

About 12 million people in the U.S. have some form of peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries in the legs, and about 1 million of these patients develop a severe form called chronic limb-threatening ischemia.

These patients often undergo vascular surgery to open up their peripheral arteries in an effort to improve blood flow to the legs. In severe cases, patients may need to have the diseased leg amputated.

In the study, the team collected blood samples from 87 patients before they underwent vascular surgery to treat chronic limb-threatening ischemia.

The researchers found that cFAS levels in the blood were independently associated with the disease. A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes and smoking status also were strongly and independently correlated with chronic limb-threatening ischemia.

When all three of these factors were considered together, they could predict the presence of the disease with 83% accuracy.

The researchers also found that cFAS levels in the blood were associated with the fatty acid synthase content of plaque sampled from the femoral artery, the main vessel supplying blood to the legs.

In addition, they found that cFAS circulates through the bloodstream while bound to LDL, the so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol, which raises an intriguing question.

The researchers are testing cFAS as a possible target of new drug therapies that could slow plaque buildup and treat or prevent heart disease.

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The study is published in Scientific Reports. One author of the study is Mohamed A. Zayed, MD, Ph.D.

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