New Tests for Heart Disease Risk Now Available to the Public
By Jeffery Kahn

Closing the gap between heart disease research findings and medical care, Berkeley Lab has entered into a partnership to make state-of-the-art cardiovascular risk testing available to the public.

The Lab has signed an agreement with a private company, Berkeley HeartLab, which will commercialize a panel of blood cholesterol tests that has previously not been available to the public. The new test series, developed by Berkeley Lab, detects the presence of traits recently discovered to be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 35 to 40 percent of all deaths in the U.S., is the country's leading cause of death.

Because it identifies a range of abnormalities, the test series will allow physicians to better select appropriate therapies to halt progression of cardiovascular disease. Some disease patterns respond to diet and lifestyle changes, whereas others do not. In certain cases, treatment with cholesterol-lowering drugs is advisable.

More often than not, current cholesterol tests do not identify who will develop heart disease. This next generation of cardiovascular tests will screen for newly discovered risk factors, with the potential to save lives.

Dr. Ronald Krauss of Life Sciences, who heads Berkeley Lab's Cholesterol Research Center, says the new screening panel not only will benefit individuals but also will accelerate research progress.

"In terms of heart care," said Krauss, "this $3.8 million five-year contract will help us continue our efforts to identify and understand the genetic and metabolic factors that predispose individuals to cardiovascular disease. Our long term goal is to develop a panel of genetic tests that can be administered in childhood to identify risks."

Over the long term, Berkeley Lab will build a database of large, at-risk families with shared traits. This database will help narrow the search for yet more definitive genetic markers of heart disease risk.

Currently, the typical blood lipo- protein analysis (aimed at assessing cardiovascular risk) is confined to total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or bad cholesterol), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL or good cholesterol), and triglycerides. Risk factors identified by this series include elevated LDL levels and HDL values below 35 mg/dl.

The new lipid analyses, which health providers around the country can make available to patients through arrangement with the Berkeley HeartLab, consists of the above series plus six additional tests.

Because these tests are still considered investigative, physicians who receive the results will be able to consult with Dr. Krauss and the researchers at Berkeley Lab's Cholesterol Research Center.

Physicians will then provide information about the clinical significance of the tests and the most appropriate and effective follow-up program for each patient.