21 March 2009
The Framingham Heart Study is a well-known health research project initiated in 1948 in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, and supported by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The study recruited a large group of healthy middle-aged participants who were followed over the coming years to look at the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), with the aim of identifying key factors involved in CVD. The recruitment and follow-up of large cohorts of people over time is now a well-established form of research (for example, projects linked to the UK Biobank initiative), but the ongoing Framingham Heart Study was among the first of its kind. Now, the Framingham study is to embark on a new project to identify biomarkers for CVD that could be measured via blood tests via a public-private partnership with company BG Medicine, in collaboration with Boston University School of Medicine and School of Public Health.
The project is called the Systems Approach to Biomarker Research in Cardiovascular Disease (SABRe CVD), and will use BG Medicine’s technology for the detection and validation of molecular biomarkers, and linked changes in gene expression. Around 1000 blood biomarkers will be studied, and levels correlated heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other risk factors in around 7000 study participants. Data from the project will be made available to other researchers via the Database for Genotype and Phenotype.
NHLBI Director Elizabeth Nabel said: "Imagine having a simple blood test to tell us if a patient is at high risk for a heart attack or stroke - we could do so much more to prevent or delay these often debilitating and deadly diseases" (see press release). However, previous work has suggested that the additional predictive value of biomarkers for CVD on top of well-established risk factors and markers such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels is likely to be limited, so that this research, while valuable, may not have as great an impact on public health initiatives as suggested. Data from this sort of study can also be very difficult to interpret when attempting to decide whether or not they justify an alteration in policy.