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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Test Discovered by VA Physician Detects Carotid Plaques

April 19, 2011

With retired National Football League (NFL) players as research study participants, a physician from the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center discovered a specialized cholesterol test may predict carotid plaques better in those individuals with metabolic syndrome. The findings were reported recently at the American College of Cardiology 60th Annual Scientific Session & Expo and Innovation in Intervention: i2 Summit 2011 in New Orleans.

“We found that for most retired NFL players, traditional fasting cholesterol test is a good way to detect carotid plaques, which are related to cardiovascular disease,” said Salim S. Virani, M.D., a staff cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and an investigator at the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. ”However for those diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a more specialized test may be needed.”

Researchers compared traditional cholesterol tests - which measure total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides - with a specialized test that measures levels such as the number of low density lipoprotein particles.

One of the reasons retired NFL players were used is because of their size.

“They have a higher risk of heart disease based on their size, especially those who played in the linemen positions during their professional career. Many also suffer from metabolic syndrome, so they are an ideal group to study,” said Virani, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “While the cholesterol test can predict carotid plaques, more studies are needed to understand if this more specialized test will help predict cardiovascular outcomes.”

Other health care professionals who contributed to the study include Vijay Nambi and Christie M. Ballantyne, both with Baylor College of Medicine; Andrew E. Lincoln, Reginald E. Dunn, and Andrew M. Tucker, all with the Sports Medicine Research Center, Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore; Khurram Nasir with the Yale University School of Medicine; Robert A. Vogel with the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore; and Arthur J. Roberts with the Living Heart Foundation in New Jersey.
This work was supported by a grant from the NFL Charities and the Houston VA Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence. Virani is supported by a Department of Veteran Affairs Health Services Research and Development Services Career Development Award. Liposcience Inc. (Raleigh, NC) performed the specialized lipid test.

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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 120,000 veterans in southeast Texas. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, and Richmond, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged more than one million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2010. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit