Sept. 7, 2005 — Heart disease is a leading killer of men and women, and doctors may have found a new way to predict which heart patients are most vulnerable.
In The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors shine the spotlight on endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). Heart patients with the most EPCs in their blood were least likely to die of heart disease in the next 12 months, write Nikos Werner, MD, and colleagues.
Werner works at Germany’s University of Saarland.
What Are EPCs?
EPCs are made in the bone marrow, but they don’t stay there.
Instead, new EPCs bob through the bloodstream until they reach the right spot, where they line blood vessels. They may replace older EPCs that were hurt by heart disease, write the researchers.
The study included 519 patients with heart disease. Circulating levels of EPC were checked from patients’ blood samples.
Patients with higher EPC blood levels at the study’s start were least likely to die from heart problems, the study shows.
However, EPC levels didn’t predict nonfatal heart attacks, strokes, or deaths unrelated to heart disease, write the researchers.
How can people boost their EPC levels?
Studies in animals suggest that enhancing levels of EPC in the blood through exercise, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, and estrogen therapy may help replace old EPCs damaged by heart disease, write the researchers.
These study results provide yet another rationale for redoubling efforts to comply with established therapeutic guidelines, including lifestyle modifications and the use of cholesterol-lowering statin therapy, both of which appear to enhance the number of circulating EPCs, writes Anthony Rosenzweig, MD, in a journal editorial.
Rosenzweig works at the program in cardiovascular gene therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital and at Harvard Medical School.