Aruni Bhatnagar of the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Dr. Robert Brook of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said the field focuses on the relationship between heart disease and air pollution -- specifically the smaller, microscopic particles that are not filtered out by the upper airway and can get into the lungs, possibly gaining entrance to the blood stream.
The researchers organized Environmental Factors in Heart Disease, a symposium scheduled to be part of the Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans April 21.
Bhatnagar has linked exposure to environmental aldehydes -- toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust -- to increased blood cholesterol levels and the activation of enzymes that can cause plaque in the blood vessels to rupture. Ruptured plaque can result in a blood clot that may lead to a heart attack, Bhatnagar said.
Brook's research has found a very rapid increase in blood pressure within 15 minutes of inhaling air pollutants. Also, as blood vessels react to pollutants as foreign matter, the inflammatory response sets off a complex physiological response that is harmful to the blood vessels.