By BONNIE PRESCOTT, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Staff

An exciting new area of biomedical research focuses on microRNAs. These tiny RNA molecules, once considered to be simply “genomic junk,” have only recently been discovered to play an important role in the functioning of cells.

BIDMC cardiologist Saumya Das, MD, PhD, is leading a large national study to identify microRNAs that might serve as biomarkers in patients with heart disease.

Each year, complications from heart attacks contribute to more than half a million cases of heart failure and more than 300,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops. Both of these conditions are closely related to a process known as remodeling, in which the structure and the function of the heart changes or “remodels” following a heart attack.

“Our goal is to determine if microRNAs can help predict which heart-attack patients will go on to experience complications caused by remodeling,” says Das, an electrophysiologist in BIDMC’s CardioVascular Institute and co-director of the cardiovascular genetics program within BIDMC’s Outpatient Cardiovascular Clinic.

“We think that a blood test based on microRNA biomarkers could tell us which patients might experience poor outcomes, so that we could learn who could most benefit from frequent monitoring and medical care,” adds Das, who is the Principal Investigator of a five-year $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study microRNA biomarkers.

Using plasma samples from heart-attack patients, the scientific team is first identifying which specific microRNAs are related to poor heart remodeling. They then use cell culture and animal models of heart disease to further determine which microRNAs play a role in disease progression. The last step of their research will be a clinical trial to validate microRNAs as biomarkers.

“Ultimately, we think that microRNA-based tests could predict which patients might be at risk of complications and, therefore, be good candidates to receive an implanted defibrillator,” says Das. “At the same time, we hope to be able to identify patients at less risk of complications, in order to spare them unnecessary and costly medical procedures.”

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2015

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