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Focus On Research

BIDMC Researchers Probe Causes of Condition that Killed TV Newsman Tim Russert


When "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert died suddenly last spring, people around the country were shocked. How could this talented, intelligent, 58-year old die so unexpectedly when his doctors were monitoring his heart disease?

It was later discovered that Russert died following the rupture of noncalcified or "vulnerable" plaque - a buildup of soft deposits embedded deep within the walls of his heart's arteries. Unlike calcified plaque, which can be detected and treated, noncalcified plaque stays well hidden, undetectable by cardiac stress tests. Without warning, it can suddenly detach from the artery wall and, as in Russert's case, cause sudden death.

Now Boston researchers, including a team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, are looking for men and women, ages 21-70 to help them study the causes of vulnerable plaque. Participants must have a diagnosis of coronary artery disease as well as metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes characterized by obesity, high blood pressure, low "good" (HDL) cholesterol, and a high level of triglyceride fat in the blood

Patients will undergo two free scans using a highly precise 320-slice MDCT scanner to assess the incidence and amount of plaque, as well as the effects of treatment. Participants will receive compensation for their time and some randomly selected patients will also receive free coaching on diet, exercise and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Known by its acronym, TINSAL-CVD, the trial has begun enrolling patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Joslin Diabetes Center and other New England hospitals to learn whether lifestyle interventions (diet, exercise, and use of an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement) or the use of a salsalate (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) can reduce the incidence of inflammation, believed to be a key factor in the development of vulnerable plaque - and the risk of sudden death. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Heart patients who are interested in participating in the study should call Dr. Michelle McKenney at 617-632-7656 or email mckenne@bidmc.harvard.edu.