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The Future of Your Heart Attack

AREN'T THERE PLANS FOR SOME KIND OF INJECTION OR PILL WE COULD TAKE TO MAKE THE PLAQUE GO AWAY?

Some scientists are indeed heading in that direction. Among the new approaches is something called "chelation therapy" for clogged arteries. Chelation is generally used as a detoxification process. A substance is introduced to the bloodstream to attract and bind, say, excess lead that might be in the bloodstream because of exposure or ingestion, to help with its removal. The thinking is that chelation might be able to collect and bind the calcium that holds together arterial plaque, thus causing its dissolution.

Of course, the most promising noninvasive approach for attacking the disease is gene therapy, but that is in an embryonic stage. The idea is that dysfunctional genes--whether they're inherited or the product of environmental exposures or lifestyle or the aging process--are the foundation of heart disease. So, as with cancer, once the offending genes can be identified and marked--in this case, any genes ranging from those that regulate synthesis of LDL cholesterol to those that manufacture C-reactive protein to those that are involved in the complex processes of inflammation or blood clotting--they simply can be replaced with new, perfectly functioning ones. Another approach, now in clinical trials, is the injection of genes that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, which could provide a "natural bypass." Also being investigated is the infusion of fresh stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow into the damaged heart tissue--cells that can then transform themselves into new heart-muscle tissue. Finally, researchers in Houston have begun to develop a kind of vaccine against heart attacks based on a medication that would instruct the body to slow its production of certain blood-clotting agents, thus reducing the prospect of an artery-blocking clot

All these procedures are years away from practical use. But be brave. "People forget that tuberculosis was once treated by surgery," Cosgrove points out. "Then streptomycin came along and it could stop the disease, and then preventive health maintenance came along and the disease disappeared. I would expect this to be the course with heart disease."

Meaning that if you are under fifty today, your future heart attack might be totally prevented by, relatively speaking, a pinprick--the promised land of almost bloodless surgery.

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