SPOKANE, Wash. — The Health Research and Education Center at Washington State University Spokane will partner with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with Swiss researchers to expand the work of the Spokane Heart Study.

The study, initiated in 1994 and led by Dr. C. Harold Mielke, director of the HREC, has followed nearly 1,000 volunteer healthy participants with no evidence of heart disease over seven years to track their coronary health. Using electron beam computed tomography, doctors scan participants for signs of coronary artery calcification, an indicator of coronary artery atherosclerosis or heart disease.

Mielke said large numbers of people have no abnormalities in traditional risk factors, but have evidence of progressive coronary artery disease when scanned with the EBCT. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association in 2001, half of the men and 63 percent of women who die suddenly from a heart attack had no previous symptoms, and these people didn’t know they were at risk for developing a heart attack.

With such a large number of people who can’t be identified through factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and age, researchers have sought another factor to explain the heart disease. Most recently, Mielke’s work and that of other researchers has focused on inflammation and plaque rupture within arteries as a leading cause of coronary artery disease and death from heart disease. Mielke and others have published a number of articles on results from the Spokane Heart Study.

Atlanta-based CDC researchers Bruce L. Evatt, MD, Chief of the CDC Hematology Branch, and W. Craig Hooper, Ph.D, section chief for the CDC’s Molecular and Hemostasis Lab in the Hematalogic Disease Branch, will analyze specimens from the study participants for the presence of inflammatory markers and will perform genetic analysis to look for changes in genes involved in the development of arterial plaque. The goal is to predict which individuals develop an unstable plaque that will be more prone to rupture and thus more apt to cause a heart attack. Hooper believes this joint project is a tool that could lead to better prevention efforts aimed at coronary artery disease.

More recently, initial results from the SHS were presented at the 6th International Symposium on Global Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Florence, Italy. Investigators from the Swiss Primary Prevention Study of Coronary artery disease have entered into collaboration with the HREC. This will enable the Swiss physicians to collect data in the same manner as in the Spokane Heart Study and will allow similar analysis of data. “The Spokane Heart Study is developing into a global study, which is very exciting,” said Mielke.