June 14 (UPI) -- For the first time, researchers have developed a blood test that predicts the long-term risk of a heart attack and death among those with severe coronary artery disease.
Researchers at Australia's Austin Health and the University of Melbourne found patients with coronary artery disease were more likely to die or have a heart attack over the next 10 years if they have a high level of an enzyme called ACE2. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Plos One.
Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease in the United States, killing more than 370,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States.
In coronary artery disease, the heart's blood supply is narrowed or blocked because of build-up of plaque.
"We have come a long way in treating coronary artery disease but certain patients continue to be at high risk of dying," Melbourne researcher Dr. Louise Burrell said in a press release. "This new blood test helped identify such patients who may derive benefit from more aggressive treatment."
In the study, 79 patients in Australia at least 18 years old with coronary artery disease were recruited between November 2004 and January 2006, followed up long-term. The average age was 66 with 69 percent having a history of smoking and 24 percent diabetes.
In 46 percent of the patients, heart failure, heart attacks and death occurred over the next 10 years.
It occurred more often in those with the highest ACE2 levels.
"Future studies are planned to investigate if intensification of the medical treatment in those patients will reduce the risk of death," Burrell said. "If this were the case, the ACE2 blood test could be offered to all patients with coronary artery disease as part of their risk assessment.''
Blood tests have been used to detect substances present in the blood that indicate disease or a future risk of the development of heart disease.
In January, researchers at University of Michigan found a new test better measures levels of troponin, a protein released when the heart muscle is damaged. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved this test in January 2017.