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Blood Test Could Identify Smokers at Higher Risk for Heart Disease

A simple blood test could someday quantify a smoker’s lung toxicity and danger of heart disease, UT Southwestern researchers have found.

Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. smoke, increasing their risk of heart attack, stroke, and dying from heart disease. But the risk varies among individuals. Now, UTSW research suggests that levels of a lung protein found in the blood of smokers could indicate their risk of dangerous plaque buildup in blood vessels.

“We are now close to having a blood test to help measure the smoking-related effects that contribute to atherosclerotic heart disease,” says Anand Rohatgi, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and co-lead author of the study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, a publication of the American Heart Association.

Researchers found that smokers who had higher levels of a protein known as pulmonary surfactant B (SP-B) also had more buildup of plaque in the aorta — the largest artery in the body, with branches leading to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs.

What’s next

The test is still being evaluated and is not yet available for commercial use. The next step, according to Dr. Rohatgi, is to investigate whether SP-B causes atherosclerosis, or is simply a marker of the disease. Additionally, researchers hope to determine whether decreasing SP-B levels will improve heart disease outcomes.