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Medical College of Wisconsin researchers seek to improve tests for predicting heart disease

Aug. 23, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) received a four-year, $2.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to develop a more precise clinical test for predicting a patient’s risk of developing heart disease.

Kirkwood A. Pritchard, Ph.D., professor of surgery, pharmacology and toxicology and director of translational vascular biology program at MCW and a member of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute, is the principal investigator for the grant. Dr. Pritchard’s co-principal investigator is Mary G. Sorci-Thomas, Ph.D., professor of pathology and lipid sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Wisconsin, resulting in more than 16,000 deaths annually-- approximately one-third of all deaths in the state. The prevalence of this disease may increase as rates of obesity and hypertension are predicted to rise in Wisconsin.

This research seeks to aid physicians in predicting and preventing heart disease. Recent studies have shown the importance of measuring the function of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as “good” cholesterol. Measuring HDL function is more accurate than traditional tests, which measure HDL levels, at predicting which patients will develop heart disease. Current tests for the function of HDL cholesterol are complex and too cumbersome to be useful in a clinical setting.

Dr. Pritchard and Dr. Sorci-Thomas will work to develop novel tests for HDL functionality that are simpler and less time-consuming for practitioners in a clinical setting. Their work may lead to a better diagnostic tool for predicting a person’s risk of heart disease, which would meet a great need in helping prevent and effectively treat heart disease.

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