A Finnish blood screening technology has uncovered four new biomarkers that improve the prediction of the risk for heart attack or stroke within the next 15 years. The blood profiling technique may eventually help doctors to identify those people who would benefit the most from early treatment. An international research team led from Finland has discovered new blood biomarkers that improve prediction of the risk of cardiovascular disease. Blood samples of 13 441 apparently healthy people from Finland and the UK were screened for 68 biological markers. The health status of these volunteers was followed for over a decade. The researchers looked for measures in the blood that could reflect who had suffered a heart attack or a stroke within the following years. Four biomarkers were indicative of future cardiovascular disease risk independently of known risk factors. 

The biomarkers for future cardiovascular disease were phenylalanine, a common amino acid, and the amount of monounsaturated fat in the blood; higher concentrations were linked with higher disease risk. These two biomarkers were as strong predictors of future heart disease as the measures of bad cholesterol or blood pressure. In addition, higher blood levels of both omega 3 and omega-6 fatty acids were linked with lower risk for cardiovascular disease. All these molecules are normally present in everyone’s blood, but it is the amount of these molecules that was shown to be reflecting the cardiovascular health.

According to Dr. Peter Würtz, from the University of Oulu (UniOulu), Finland, these new biomarkers can help to better assess the complex molecular processes behind the development of cardiovascular disease. The improved prediction of cardiovascular risk also suggests cost savings in healthcare by advanced biomarker profiling. It is still unclear how the new molecular markers mediate the increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The researchers are now working to uncover this aspect. The low-cost blood screening technology opens a treasure trove to understand the molecular mechanisms of heart disease and other metabolic diseases.

The scientific breakthrough was made possible thanks to the new blood screening technology, developed by the Computational Medicine Research Team in Finland. The method is based on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and enables determination of over 200 biomarkers for body metabolism from a single blood sample. The technique is now being used for metabolic screening in large population studies and biobanks across Europe. The research was conducted in international collaboration, including researchers from the University of Oulu, the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Turku, the Framingham Heart Study in Boston, US, as well as the University College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of Bristol, UK.