Different minerals cause aortic heart valve blockage in men and women, according to a new study.
The findings could change how doctors diagnose and treat heart disease.
Researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to analyze damaged heart valves from patients who had undergone transplants.
The findings in Acta Biomaterialia show considerable differences in the mineral deposits found in aortic valves of men and women who suffer from stenosis, a life-threatening heart condition that a narrowing of the aortic valve opening causes.
“What we showed, which was a surprise to us, is that the type of minerals in the heart valves is different between the sexes,” says Marta Cerruti, an associate professor in the materials engineering department at McGill University.
“We unexpectedly found that the minerals are different in composition and shape, and that they grow slower in women.”
Mineral composition analysis performed at the Soft X-Ray Mischaracterization Beamline, housed within the CLS, also found a type of mineral deposit almost exclusively in samples from female patients.
The findings demonstrate the importance of thinking about diversity in the context of research, a concept that has historically been a blind spot for the scientific community, Cerruti says. For example, using only male mice in experiments used to be a standard practice.
“Our study is the perfect illustration that by only looking at a specific population, you will skew your data,” she says. “Having a more diverse data set improves your science.”
Heart disease remains the global leading cause of death in both men and women. With 280,000 heart valves replaced every year in Canada due to stenosis, Cerruti says her work demonstrates the need to develop different diagnostic and therapeutic approaches when treating aortic stenosis in men or women.
In order to make that happen, Cerruti’s group will return to the CLS to further investigate this cardiovascular phenomenon and understand the precise composition of the mineral deposits they found in women.
“Understanding what the minerals are could definitely help to develop a cure,” she says. “It’s possible that there could be easier ways to target these minerals and dissolve them for women.”
The Canada Research Chair Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council funded the work.
Source: McGill University