Identifying Better Tests to Detect Heart Disease in Women

When it comes to screening and diagnosing for cardiovascular disease, physicians know much less about what to look for in women than they do in men.

Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD

To rectify this severe knowledge gap, Cedars-Sinai's clinical proteomics pioneer Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD, is leading research into sex-specific indicators of heart disease at the molecular level.

As director of Cedars-Sinai's Advanced Clinical Biosystems Research Institute and director of basic science research in the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center, Van Eyk is operating discovery programs to identify biomarkers for heart attack, stroke and early arteriosclerosis.

Van Eyk — who is also Cedars-Sinai's Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women's Heart Health — is renowned for developing highly sensitive tests for biomarkers, including troponin, which has become a vital diagnostic and prognostic marker for acute coronary syndrome. For decades, doctors have used a single level of troponin as a benchmark in men and women; but recent evidence has shown that when women had heart attacks they registered lower troponin levels than men. An initial study suggested that the long-referenced level of troponin missed as an indicator of heart attack in one out of every five women tested.

The Van Eyk Laboratory is identifying other proteins that may provide a window into heart attacks before troponin can be detected.

"By developing highly sensitive tests to detect previously unknown biomarkers, we may pinpoint and even prevent cardiovascular disease in women," Van Eyk said.

C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD

C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Women's Heart Center and the Women's Guild Chair in Women's Health, is collaborating with Van Eyk in this endeavor. The center spearheads research to identify female-pattern ischemic heart disease and to advance specialized care for women.

Van Eyk is a leader in her field in developing automated techniques that can conduct highly accurate, high-throughput protein assays; and she takes a sophisticated approach to translational research. She trains her bench team to think about paths to products such as new medications, biomarkers or diagnostic tools.

"Genomics tell you who you could be; proteomics and metabolomics tell you who you are today," Van Eyk said. "If we can weave together this knowledge, physicians could treat women and men based on their precise disease state.

"That is my definition of individualized medicine, and I do think it's possible."