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Understanding Aortic Aneurysms

University Medicine: A new JKU study provides new insight.

Prof. David Bernhard
Prof. David Bernhard

A recent study conducted by the Johannes Kepler University Linz has delivered significant findings on the way aortic aneurysms form. Aortic aneurysms are dangerous aortic expansions and any ruptures can be life-threatening. As the disease often progresses without showing any symptoms, doctors often only detect the condition once it is at an advanced stage and requires surgical intervention. A team led by Univ. Prof. David Bernhard and Dr. Christian Doppler (Department of Pathophysiology at the JKU Faculty of Medicine) has identified new approaches to detect aortic aneurysms early and create individualized treatment.

The study focused in particular on the relationship between aortic aneurysms and a special form of the aortic valve. The valve normally consists of three leaflets, but 2% of the population has a bicuspid valve with only two leaflets. While this condition is not pathological in itself, as many as 80% of those affected will develop an aortic aneurysm during their lifetime.

The underlying factors remain largely unidentified. Researchers studied both the local effects, as well as systemic effects, examining the affected tissue as well as isolated cells, using blood analysis to identify changes throughout the entire body. In order to better interpret the findings, all of the examinations were performed on a healthy control group as well. The findings showed the disease causes massive atherosclerotic changes in the tissue as well as disturbed lipid metabolism. Researchers also identified abnormal lipid metabolic pathways that showed pathological changes in affected cells. The pathological changes occurred exclusively in the group that had who had normal aortic valves. In contrast, participants who have a bicuspid aortic valve showed no changes and resembled the healthy control group at the tissue, cellular and genetic levels. Prof. David Bernhard confidently added: "These results suggest that symptomatically, this group is also subject to aortic aneurysms but their origins and pathological development are profoundly different. In the future, this finding could result in more individualizedtreatment."