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Is CHIP the new heart attack risk?

Researchers are beginning to put their finger on what may be causing heart attack and stroke in people with few or no conventional risk factors, but some experts warn not to get too carried away by the media hype.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine, released in July 2017, revealed the presence of clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP) in peripheral-blood cells, was found to be associated with nearly a doubling in the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in humans.

Background to the CHIP research

Researchers used whole-exome sequencing to detect the presence of CHIP in peripheral-blood cells. From there, such presence was associated with CAD using samples from four case-control studies consisting of 4,726 total participants with CAD and 3,529 controls.

The report found CHIP, which is defined as the presence of an expanded somatic blood-cell clone in persons without other hematologic abnormalities, was associated with nearly a doubling in the risk of coronary heart disease in humans and with accelerated atherosclerosis in mice. The presence of CHIP is also common among older persons and is associated with an increased risk of hematologic cancer, the study found.

CHIP in the media spotlight

In the past few weeks, the study has received considerable media spotlight in global media, including The Times (UK), the New York Times, the Deccan Chronicle  and Cardiovascular Business, amongst others.

But despite the media frenzy around this new research, some critics say we need more commentators on the research that hold no conflict of interest. According to managing editor of Health News Review, Kevin Lombangino, the researcher, Dr Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD who discusses the test in the New York Times, and who is the senior author of the New England Journal of Medicine study that sparked the coverage, has certain intellectual property rights relating to CHIP and serves as a consultant to a testing company.

“Many other authors on this study, and sources for The Times story, have similar conflicts of interest,” he further revealed. “Along with two of his co-authors, Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD holds intellectual property rights for a “Method of Identifying and Treating a Person Having a Predisposition to or Afflicted with a Cardiometabolic Disease” that’s based on CHIP.”

Why we need more expert commentary

Like any piece of research, testing is only the starting point, and there needs to be more widespread and unbiased analysis of whether testing serves any concrete benefit for patients before we all start shouting about CHIP from the rooftops.

While the research forms part of a wider canon of cardiovascular testing methodology, it’s also important not to lose sight of looking at innovative methods of treatment to address the risks that CHIP poses to cardiovascular patients.

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