Research could lead to more accurate testing for coronary artery disease

Some 150 million blood lipid panels are done annually in the U.S. to assess levels of cholesterol, high-density (HDL “good”) and low-density (LDL “bad”) lipoproteins, and other substances that affect risk for coronary artery disease – the leading cause of death in the U.S. For the 80 percent of the population with levels in a broad range of normal, these tests are as accurate in assessing risk as “flipping a coin,” says UW physician Jay Heinecke, a Professor in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Nutrition.

In conducting groundbreaking research on the protein composition of HDL and LDL, Heinecke and his colleagues are upending long-accepted theories. They discovered that the pattern of protein expression varies significantly between people with and without coronary artery disease. Heinecke theorizes that the cardioprotective effects of HDL can be harmed when specific proteins alter the “good” lipoprotein. Their discovery could lead to far more accurate screening tests for risk of coronary artery disease and more individualized treatment that could save lives and reduce health care costs. Their papers on their findings, published in the Journal of the Clinical Investigation and Circulation, are drawing wide attention. Additionally, they believe the screening method could have wide application for other metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

“The UW Center for Commercialization has filed for patents on our testing method and has been extraordinarily helpful in providing the commercialization roadmap and resolving roadblocks so we could progress towards licensing the technology and impacting patient care,” Heinecke said. “They’ve also brought in EIRs and other experts to explore whether our screening method could have wider applications, perhaps for other metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.”

Heinecke notes that challenging long-accepted knowledge and methods can involve a “long haul” to prove the value of a new approach. His team’s next step is to secure the considerable funding needed to conduct further studies and clinical trials.