According to an article in Science, Orchid’s service—a sequencings of the whole human genome of preimplantation embryos at $2,500 per embryo tested—“will look not just for single-gene mutations that cause disorders such as cystic fibrosis, but also more extensively for medleys of common and rare gene variants known to predispose people to neurodevelopmental disorders, severe obesity, and certain psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia.”
However, Science also noted that some genomics researchers “claim the company inappropriately uses their data to generate some of its risk estimates,” adding that the “Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), an international group of more than 800 researchers working to decode the genetic and molecular underpinnings of mental health conditions, says Orchid’s new test relies on data [PGC] produced over the past decade, and that the company has violated restrictions against the data’s use for embryo screening.”
There are some who assert that a whole genome sequence of an embryo—given today’s state of genetic technology and knowledge—could generate information that cannot be interpreted accurately in ways that help parents and doctors make informed prenatal testing decisions. At the same time, criticisms expressed by the PGC raise reasonable points.
Perhaps this is a sign of the times. Orchid Health is the latest genetic testing company that is looking to get ahead of genetic testing competitors with its diagnostics offerings. Meanwhile, knowledgeable and credible experts question the appropriateness of this testing, given the genetic knowledge that exists today.
“This is a major advance in the amount of information parents can have,” Orchid’s founder and CEO Noor Siddiqui (above) told CNBC. “The way that you can use that information is really up to you, but it gives a lot more control and confidence into a process that, for all of history, has just been totally left to chance.” Should Orchid Health’s analysis prove useful, pediatricians could order further clinical laboratory prenatal testing to confirm and diagnose potential genetic diseases for parents. (Photo copyright: General Assembly.)
Orchid Receives World-class Support
Regardless of the pushback from some genetic researchers, Orchid has attracted several world-class geneticists and genetics investors to its board of advisors. They include:
The WGS test, according to Orchid, detects genetic errors in embryos that are linked to severe illnesses before a pregnancy even begins. And by sequencing 99% of an embryo’s DNA, the test can spot potential health risks that could affect a future baby.
According to its website, the PGT lab company uses the WGS data to identify both monogenic (single-gene) and polygenic (multiple-gene) diseases, including:
Orchid is not without its critics. Knowledgeable, credible experts have questioned the appropriateness of this type of genetic testing. They fear it could become a modern-day form of eugenics.
Andrew McQuillin, PhD, Professor of Molecular Psychiatry at University College London, has concerns about Orchid’s preimplantation genetic testing. He maintains that it is difficult to control how such data is used, and that even the most accurate sequencing techniques do not predict disease risk very well.
“[Polygenic risk scores are] useful in the research context, but at the individual level, they’re not actually terribly useful to predict who’s going to develop schizophrenia or not,” McQuillin told Science. “We can come up with guidance on how these things should be used. The difficulty is that official guidance like that doesn’t feature anywhere in the marketing from these companies.”
McQuillin also stated that researchers must have an extensive discussion regarding the implications of this type of embryo screening.
“We need to take a look at whether this is really something we should be doing. It’s the type of thing that, if it becomes widespread, in 40 years’ time, we will ask, ‘What on Earth have we done?’” McQuillin emphasized.
It takes about three weeks for couples to receive their report back from Orchid after completing the whole genome sequence of a preimplantation embryo. A board-certified genetic counselor then consults with the parents to help them understand the results.
Founder and CEO Noor Siddiqui hopes Orchid will be able to scale up its operations and introduce more automation to the testing process to the cost per embryo.
“We want to make this something that’s accessible to everyone,” she told CNBC.
“I think this has the potential to totally redefine reproduction,” she added. “I just think that’s really exciting to be able to make people more confident about one of the most important decisions of their life, and to give them a little bit more control.”
Clinical laboratories have long been involved in prenatal screening to gain insight into risk levels associated with certain genetic disorders. Even some of that testing comes with controversy and ambiguous findings. Whether Orchid Health’s PGT process delivers accurate, reliable diagnostic insights regarding preimplantation embryos remains to be seen.
New gene-editing systems could provide markedly improved accuracy for DNA and RNA editing leading to new precision medicine tools and genetic therapies
In what may turn out to be a significant development in genetic engineering, researchers from three institutions have identified nearly 200 new systems that can be used for editing genes. It is believed that a number of these new systems can provide comparable or better accuracy when compared to CRISPER (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), currently the most-used gene editing method.
CRISPR-Cas9 has been the standard tool for CRISPR gene editing and genetic engineering. However, publication of these new research findings are expected to give scientists better, more precise tools to edit genes. In turn, these developments could lead to new clinical laboratory tests and precision medicine therapies for patients with inherited genetic diseases.
“Best known as a powerful gene-editing tool, CRISPR actually comes from an inbuilt defense system found in bacteria and simple microbes called archaea. CRISPR systems include pairs of ‘molecular scissors’ called Cas enzymes, which allow microbes to cut up the DNA of viruses that attack them. CRISPR technology takes advantage of these scissors to cut genes out of DNA and paste new genes in,” according to Live Science.
In its article, New Atlas noted that the researchers looked to bacteria because “In nature, CRISPR is a self-defense tool used by bacteria.” They developed an algorithm—called FLSHclust—to conduct “a deep dive into three databases of bacteria, found in environments as diverse as Antarctic lakes, breweries, and dog saliva.”
In their paper, the researchers wrote, “We developed fast locality-sensitive hashing–based clustering (FLSHclust), a parallelized, deep clustering algorithm with linearithmic scaling based on locality-sensitive hashing. FLSHclust approaches MMseqs2, a gold-standard quadratic-scaling algorithm, in clustering performance. We applied FLSHclust in a sensitive CRISPR discovery pipeline and identified 188 previously unreported CRISPR-associated systems, including many rare systems.”
“In lab tests [the newfound CRISPR systems] demonstrated a range of functions, and fell into both known and brand new categories,” New Atlas reported.
“Some of these microbial systems were exclusively found in water from coal mines,” Soumya Kannan, PhD (above), a Graduate Fellow at MIT’s Zhang Lab and co-first author of the study, told New Atlas. “If someone hadn’t been interested in that, we may never have seen those systems.” These new gene-editing systems could lead to new clinical laboratory genetic tests and therapeutics for chronic diseases. (Photo copyright: MIT McGovern Institute.)
Deeper Look at Advancement
The CRISPR-Cas9 made a terrific impact when it was announced in 2012, earning a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Though CRISPR-Cas9 brought huge benefits to genetic research, the team noted in their Science paper that “existing methods for sequence mining lag behind the exponentially growing databases that now contain billions of proteins, which restricts the discovery of rare protein families and associations.
“We sought to comprehensively enumerate CRISPR-linked gene modules in all existing publicly available sequencing data,” the scientist continued. “Recently, several previously unknown biochemical activities have been linked to programmable nucleic acid recognition by CRISPR systems, including transposition and protease activity. We reasoned that many more diverse enzymatic activities may be associated with CRISPR systems, many of which could be of low abundance in existing [gene] sequence databases.”
Among the previously unknown gene-editing systems the researchers found were some belonging to the Type 1 CRISPR systems class. These “have longer guide RNA sequences than Cas9. They can be directed to their targets more precisely, reducing the risk of off-target edits—one of the main problems with CRISPR gene editing,” New Atlas reported.
“The authors also identified a CRISPR-Cas enzyme, Cas14, which cuts RNA precisely. These discoveries may help to further improve DNA- and RNA-editing technologies, with wide-ranging applications in medicine and biotechnology,” the Science paper noted.
Testing also showed these systems were able to edit human cells, meaning “their size should allow them to be delivered in the same packages currently used for CRISPR-Cas9,” New Atlas added.
Another newfound gene-editing system demonstrated “collateral activity, breaking down nucleic acids after binding to the target, New Atlas reported. SHERLOCK, a tool used to diagnose single samples of RNA or DNA to diagnose disease, previously utilized this system.
Additionally, New Atlas noted, “a type VII system was found to target RNA, which could unlock a range of new tools through RNA editing. Others could be adapted to record when certain genes are expressed, or as sensors for activity in cells.”
The strides in science from the CRISPR-Cas9 give a hint at what can come from the new discovery. “Not only does this study greatly expand the field of possible gene editing tools, but it shows that exploring microbial ecosystems in obscure environments could pay off with potential human benefits,” New Atlas noted.
“This study introduces FLSHclust as a tool to cluster millions of sequences quickly and efficiently, with broad applications in mining large sequence databases. The CRISPR-linked systems that we discovered represent an untapped trove of diverse biochemical activities linked to RNA-guided mechanisms, with great potential for development as biotechnologies,” the researchers wrote in Science.
How these newfound gene-editing tools and the new FLSHclust algorithm will eventually lead to new clinical laboratory tests and precision medicine diagnostics is not yet clear. But the discoveries will certainly improve DNA/RNA editing, and that may eventually lead to new clinical and biomedical applications.
With further research, clinical laboratories may soon be performing macrobiotic testing to measure certain bacterial levels in patients’ gut bacteria
New insights from the University of Chicago (UChicago) into how human microbiota (aka, gut bacteria) play a role in food allergies has the potential to change the way a number of gastrointestinal health conditions are diagnosed and treated. This would give microbiologists and clinical laboratories a greater role in helping physicians diagnose, treat, and monitor patients with these health issues.
Past research has shown that certain gut bacteria can prevent antigens that trigger allergic reactions from entering the bloodstream. For example, Clostridium bacteria in the stomach produce a short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate, a metabolite that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. This helps keep the microbiome in balance.
One way butyrate is created in the gut is through the fermentation of fiber. However, a lack of fiber in the diet can deplete the production of butyrate and cause the microbiome to be out of balance. When this happens, a state known as dysbiosis occurs that disrupts the microbiome and can lead to food allergies.
Without butyrate, the gut lining can become permeable and allow food to leak out of the gastrointestinal tract and into the body’s circulatory system. This reaction can trigger a potentially fatal anaphylactic response in the form of a food allergy. Thus, eating enough fiber is critical to the production of butyrate and to maintaining a balanced microbiome.
But today’s western diet can be dangerously low in soluble fiber. Therefore, the scientists at the University of Chicago have developed “a special type of polymeric molecule to deliver a crucial metabolite produced by these bacteria directly to the gut, where it helps restore the intestinal lining and allows the beneficial bacteria to flourish. … these polymers, called micelles, can be designed to release a payload of butyrate, a molecule that is known to help prevent food allergies, directly in the small and large intestines,” according to a UChicago news release.
This will be of interest to microbiologists, in particular. It’s another example of researchers connecting a specific species of bacteria in the human microbiome to a specific benefit.
“It’s very unlikely that butyrate is the only relevant metabolite, but the beauty of this platform is that we can make polymers with other microbial metabolites that could be administered in conjunction with butyrate or other therapies,” said Cathryn Nagler, PhD (above), Bunning Family Professor in the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at UChicago and a senior author of the study. “So, the potential for the polymer platform is pretty much wide open.” As further research validates these findings, clinical labs are likely to be doing microbiomic testing to monitor these therapies. (Photo copyright: University of Chicago.)
Restoring Butyrate in the Gut
One way to treat this anomaly has been through a microbiota transplant—also called a fecal biota transplant—where the administration of a solution of fecal matter is transplanted from a donor into the intestinal tract of the recipient. This transplant alters the recipient’s gut microbial composition to a healthier state, but it has had mixed results.
So, the UChicago researchers went in another direction (literally). They created an oral solution of butyrate and administered it to mice in the lab. The purpose of the solution was to thwart an allergic reaction when the mice were exposed to peanuts.
But there was a problem with their oral solution. It was repulsive.
The researchers developed a new configuration of polymers that masked the butyrate. They then delivered these polymer micelles directly into the digestive systems of mice that lacked healthy gut bacteria or a proper gut linings.
The treatment restored the microbiome by increasing the production of peptides that obliterate harmful bacteria. This allowed more of the beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria to emerge, which protected the mice from an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts and even reduced the symptom severity in an ulcerative colitis model.
“We were delighted to see that our drug both replenished the levels of butyrate present in the gut and helped the population of butyrate-producing bacteria to expand,” said Cathryn Nagler, PhD, Bunning Family Professor in the Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and a senior author of the study, in the press release. “That will likely have implications not only for food allergy and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but also for the whole set of non-communicable chronic diseases that have been rising over the last 30 years, in response to lifestyle changes and overuse of antibiotics in our society.”
Future Benefits of UChicago Treatment
According to data from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 20 million Americans suffered from food allergies in 2021. This includes approximately 16 million (6.2%) of adults and four million (5.8%) of children. The most common allergens for adults are shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts, while the most common allergens for children are milk, eggs, and peanuts.
The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to a trigger food is strict avoidance. But this can be difficult to ensure outside of the home. Therefore, scientists are searching for ways to prevent food allergies from happening in the first place. The micelle technology could be adapted to deliver other metabolites and molecules which may make it a potential platform for treating allergies as well as other inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases.
“It’s a very flexible chemistry that allows us to target different parts of the gut,” said Jeffrey Hubbell, PhD, Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering and Vice Dean and Executive Officer at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and one of the project’s principal investigators, in the UChicago news release. “And because we’re delivering a metabolite like butyrate, it’s antigen-agnostic. It’s one agent for many different allergic indications, such as peanut or milk allergies. Once we begin working on clinical trials, that will be a huge benefit.”
Nagler and Hubbell have co-founded a company called ClostraBio to further the development of butyrate micelles into a commercially available treatment for peanut and other food allergies. They hope to begin clinical trials within the next 18 months and expand the technology to other applications as well.
Further research and clinical trials are needed to prove the validity of using polymer micelles in the treatment of diseases. But it is possible that clinical laboratories will be performing microbiomic testing in the future to help alleviate allergic reactions to food and other substances.
Clinical laboratories can play a critical role in helping doctors to order correct tests and interpret the results
Nearly 800,000 Americans die or are permanently disabled each year due to diagnostic errors. That’s according to research conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that found most misdiagnoses are due to cognitive errors on the part of the treating physicians. Many diagnoses typically begin with–and are often achieved through—clinical laboratory testing. For that reason, the range of diagnostic errors identified in this study will interest pathologists and lab managers.
Of course, many types of diagnostic errors have nothing to do with lab tests. That said, the research team noted that some diagnostic errors take place when physicians do not pay attention to test results that indicate a patient is not doing well, or do not understand the significance of the test results. There are also examples where doctors order the wrong lab tests for patients’ symptoms.
The Johns Hopkins study findings were published in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety titled, “Burden of Serious Harms from Diagnostic Error in the USA.” The research team determined that only 15 diseases “accounted for 50.7% of total serious harms” and nearly 40% of those harms involved just five medical conditions:
These can be narrowed down even further to just three categories, the researchers noted in BMJ Quality and Safety. They are:
Major vascular events,
In an interview with CNN Health, lead author of the study David Newman-Toker, MD, PhD, a neurology professor at Johns Hopkins and Director of the Division of Neuro-Visual and Vestibular Disorders, said “These are relatively common diseases that are missed relatively commonly and are associated with significant amounts of harm.”
“We focused here on the serious harms, but the number of diagnostic errors that happen out there in the US each year is probably somewhere on the order of magnitude of 50 to 100 million,” neurologist David Newman-Toker, MD, PhD (above), professor and Director of the Division of Neuro-Visual and Vestibular Disorders at Johns Hopkins, who led the study, told STAT. “If you actually look, you see it’s happening all the time.” Clinical laboratories play a key role in ensuring correct understanding of the tests they perform. (Photo copyright: Johns Hopkins University.)
Changes to Healthcare Risk Management
According to Newman-Toker, the Johns Hopkins study is “the first population health estimate of the number of patients seriously harmed. It also provides more information about the distribution of the diseases that are involved,” Relias Media reported.
The sheer volume of this issue is not lost on the researchers. Newman-Toker likens it to measuring an iceberg.
“You dive below the surface, and you measure the circumference of the iceberg, and [you] will say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s really big down here.’ And then you go five more feet, and you measure the circumference, and it keeps getting bigger. By the time you’re 20 feet below the surface, you realize this is huge,” he told Relias Media.
Newman-Toker believes his team’s research offers an opportunity for physicians and healthcare risk managers to better understand how exactly to prioritize their resources and focus their efforts. “In terms of how it informs their day-to-day decision-making, it really is rebalancing some of the efforts a little bit in the direction of conditions that are more common and more commonly misdiagnosed than perhaps indicated by simply looking at claims data,” he noted.
Vascular events can present in symptoms typical of much less serious conditions. Strokes, for example, can present with vague symptoms such as a headache or dizziness. This is similar to heart attacks, which can just present as chest pains. However, heart attacks are far less misdiagnosed than strokes because of a decades-long effort to eradicate those diagnostic errors.
“Diagnostic errors are errors of omission,” Daniel Yang, MD, an internist and Program Director for the Diagnostic Excellence Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, told CNN Health. “The question is: Could [the outcome] be prevented if we had done something differently earlier on? Oftentimes, that’s a judgment call that two doctors might disagree on.”
Physicians and risk managers can work together to determine the best course of action to identify vague symptoms and prevent the deaths and serious injuries that can come from diagnostic errors.
“A patient comes into the ED with a headache or dizziness, and they get told it’ll go away, and then they go home. And then a week later, you find out that they [had] a stroke,” he explained. “By then, the stroke has compounded so much that what could have been addressed in the moment … for $10,000 now becomes a $100,000 issue. … So, there’s a margin of $90,000 that has been added to the US health system burden because of the misdiagnosis.”
Padula estimates that the total cost for these misdiagnoses could come to as much as $100 billion on the healthcare system.
What’s the Solution?
How can physicians avoid misdiagnoses and keep their patients safe? Newman-Toker suggests that physicians consult with other doctors. “I believe that the quickest way to solve the diagnostic error problem in the real world would be to construct approaches that basically rely on the ‘phone a friend’ model,” he told STAT News.
“This doesn’t mean that the patient should have to seek a second opinion, but rather that providers should make it standard practice to consult with a colleague before providing a diagnosis or dismissing a patient,” STAT News added.
Clinical laboratory professionals should note that while these misdiagnoses do not take place in the lab, doctor may order incorrect tests for patients by misreading their symptoms. Thus, clinical pathologists and lab scientists can play a critical role in helping doctors to order the correct tests for their patients and accurately interpret the results.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, primarily in the small and large intestine. The cause of the disease is unknown, but genetics may play a role.
Typically, CD patients must undergo repeated colonoscopies to monitor the disease’s progression or remission. This has long been standard practice. Now, however, “AGA recommends the use of biomarkers in addition to colonoscopy and imaging studies,” according to an AGA news release. This hints at a greater role for clinical laboratories in helping physicians manage patients with Crohn’s Disease.
“Patients’ symptoms do not always match endoscopic findings, so biomarkers are a useful tool to understand and monitor the status of inflammation and guide decision making in patients with Crohn’s disease,” said gastroenterologist Siddharth Singh, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego Health and a co-author of the new AGA guidelines.
The AGA’s new guidelines demonstrate how medical science is generating new insights about how multiple biomarkers can be associated for diagnosis/management of a disease in ways that change the standard of care, particularly if it can reduce invasive procedures for the patient by the use of less invasive methods (such as a venous blood draw instead of a colonoscopy).
“Based on this guideline, biomarkers are no longer considered experimental and should be an integral part of inflammatory bowel disease care,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan MD (above), a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the guidelines, told Medical News Today. Under the new AGA guidelines, clinical laboratories will play a greater role in helping patients monitor their disease. (Photo copyright: Massachusetts General Hospital.)
Patient’s Needs Determine Biomarker vs Endoscopy Monitoring
AGA’s new guidelines could give patients a more comfortable, cost-effective, and possibly more efficient treatment plan to manage their Crohn’s disease. That’s even true if a patient’s Crohn’s disease is in remission.
With these new guidelines, Crohn’s disease patients in remission would only need their biomarkers to be checked every six to 12 months. Patients with active symptoms would need their biomarkers checked roughly every two to four months.
Biomarker testing can be seen as a useful addition to Crohn’s disease care rather than a full replacement of other forms of care. For example, the new AGA guidelines do not fully omit imaging studies and colonoscopies from treatment. Rather, they are recommended in treatment plans based on the patient’s needs.
In their Gastroenterology paper, the AGA authors wrote, “A biomarker-based monitoring strategy involves routine assessment of symptoms and noninvasive biomarkers of inflammation in patients with CD in symptomatic remission to inform ongoing management. In this situation, normalization of biomarkers is an adequate treatment target—asymptomatic patients with normal biomarkers would continue current management without endoscopy, whereas those with elevated biomarkers would undergo endoscopy.”
Fecal Matter Biomarkers
In speaking with Medical News Today on the benefits of using fecal biomarkers to assess a patient’s disease maintenance, gastroenterologist Jesse Stondell, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor at UC Davis Health, said, “If we start a patient on therapy, they’re not responding appropriately, they’re still having a lot of symptoms, we can check that fecal calprotectin test and get a very quick sense of if things are working or not.
“If the calprotectin is normal, it could be reassuring that there may be other reasons for their symptoms, and that the medicine’s working. But if they have symptoms, and a calprotectin is elevated, that’s a signal that we have to worry the medicine is not working. And that we need to change therapy in that patient,” he added.
“This is a win for Crohn’s disease patients,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the AGA’s new guidelines, told Medical News Today. “Biomarkers are usually easier to obtain, less invasive, more cost-effective than frequent colonoscopies, and can be assessed more frequently for tighter disease control and better long-term outcomes in Crohn’s disease.”
Clinical laboratories should expect these guidelines to increase demand for the processing of blood or fecal matter biomarker testing. As Crohn’s disease monitoring becomes more dependent on biomarker testing, clinical labs will play a critical role in that process.
In a presidential advisory, the AHA defines a newly described systemic health disorder called Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic Syndrome (CKM). The syndrome “is a systemic disorder characterized by pathophysiological interactions among metabolic risk factors, CKD (chronic kidney disease), and the cardiovascular system leading to multi-organ failure and a high rate of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.”
A CKM diagnosis, which is meant to identify patients who are at high risk of dying from heart disease, is based on a combination of risk factors, including:
issues with blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or blood sugar,
reduced kidney function.
CKM is a new term and doctors will be ordering medical laboratory tests associated with diagnosing patients with multiple symptoms to see if they match this diagnosis. Thus, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will want to follow the adoption/implementation of this new recommendation.
“The advisory addresses the connections among these conditions with a particular focus on identifying people at early stages of CKM syndrome,” said Chiadi Ndumele, MD, PhD (above), Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the AHA paper, in a news release. “Screening for kidney and metabolic disease will help us start protective therapies earlier to most effectively prevent heart disease and best manage existing heart disease.” Clinical laboratories will play a key role in those screenings and in diagnosis of the new syndrome. (Photo copyright: Johns Hopkins University.)
Stages of CKM Syndrome
In its presidential advisory, the AHA wrote, “Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic (CKM) syndrome is defined as a health disorder attributable to connections among obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart failure, atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. CKM syndrome includes those at risk for CVD and those with existing CVD.”
The five stages of CKM syndrome, which the AHA provided to give a framework for patients to work towards regression of the syndrome, are:
Stage 0: No CKM risk factors. Individuals should be screened every three to five years for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, and for maintaining a healthy body weight.
Stage 1: Excess body fat and/or an unhealthy distribution of body fat, such as abdominal obesity, and/or impaired glucose tolerance or prediabetes. Patients have risk factors such as weight problems or prediabetes and are encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes and try to lose at least 5% of their body weight.
Stage 2: Metabolic risk factors and kidney disease. Includes people who already have Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and/or kidney disease. Medications that target kidney function, lower blood sugar, and which help with weight loss should be considered at this stage to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels or kidney failure.
Stage 3: Early cardiovascular disease without symptoms in people with metabolic risk factors or kidney disease or those at high predicted risk for cardiovascular disease. People show signs of disease in their arteries, or have heart function issues, or may have already had a stroke or heart attack or have kidney or heart failure. Medication may also be needed at this stage.
Stage 4: Symptomatic cardiovascular disease in people with excess body fat, metabolic risk factors or kidney disease. In this stage, people are categorized as with or without having kidney failure. May also have already had a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, or cardiovascular conditions such as peripheral artery disease or atrial fibrillation.
“We now have several therapies that prevent both worsening kidney disease and heart disease,” said Chiadi Ndumele, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the Circulation paper, in a news release. “The advisory provides guidance for healthcare professionals about how and when to use those therapies, and for the medical community and general public about the best ways to prevent and manage CKM syndrome.”
According to an AHA 2023 Statistical Update, one in three adults in the US have three or more risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, or kidney disease. While CKM affects nearly every major organ in the body, it has the biggest impact on the cardiovascular system where it can affect the blood vessels, heart muscle function, the rate of fatty buildup in the arteries, electrical impulses in the heart and more.
“There is a need for fundamental changes in how we educate healthcare professionals and the public, how we organize care and how we reimburse care related to CKM syndrome,” Ndumele noted. “Key partnerships among stakeholders are needed to improve access to therapies, to support new care models, and to make it easier for people from diverse communities and circumstances to live healthier lifestyles and to achieve ideal cardiovascular health.”
New AHA Risk Calculator
In November, the AHA announced PREVENT (Predicting risk of cardiovascular disease EVENTs), a tool that doctors can use to assess a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. The new risk calculator, which incorporates CKM, allows physicians to evaluate younger people as well, and examine their long-term risks for cardiovascular issues.
Doctors can use PREVENT to assess people ages 30 to 79 and predict risk for heart attack, stroke, or heart failure over 10 to 30 years.
“Longer-term estimates are important because short-term or 10-year risk in most young adults is still going to be low. We wanted to think more broadly and apply a life-course perspective,” Khan said. “Providing information on 30-year risk may reveal earlier opportunities for intervention and prevention efforts in younger people.”
According to CDC data, about 695,000 people died of heart disease in the US in 2021. That equates to one in every five deaths. Clinical pathologists will need to understand the AHA recommendations and how doctors will be ordering clinical laboratory tests to determine if a patient has CKM. Then, labs will play a role in helping doctors monitor patients to optimize health and prevent acute episodes that put patients in the hospital.