Microscopic particles heart researchers once wrote off as unimportant blood dust may hold the key to better understanding heart disease, researchers suggest in a paper published Oct. 28 in the journal Internal Emergency Medicine.

The researchers said further understanding of the role microparticles play in the bloodstream could lead to new treatments, and possibly even therapies reduce the number of fatal heart attacks each year.

Researchers originally discovered the microparticles in worms in 1998, a discovery that won Andrew Fire and Craig Mello the Nobel Prize in 2006.

Years later, researchers have found the specs in plants and animals alike, but their functions are still being teased apart.

The microparticles consist of short versions of messenger RNA - an intermediary between the genomic book of life and proteins tthat form the building blocks of living creatures. Researchers refer to them as microRNA, strings that can bind and regulate DNA.

Luigi Biasucci, cardiologist at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and lead author, found that microRNAs in our blood might affect if and how soon we experience hardening of the arteries in our hearts and cause blood clots. Once clotted blood completely obstructs an artery, tissue in part of the heart essentially suffocates, leading to a heart attack.

The microparticles could even be linked to other common conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Patients who have cardiac diseases often have elevated levels of the microparticles, which clinicians could use as a marker for disease susciptibility, Biosucci wrote in an email. The ability to sort and identify microparticle could allow doctors tailor more effective treatments.

A variety of conditions caused by blood clots could be treated if the microRNAs indirectly responsible could be reduced in the bloodstream, Biasucci said. MicroRNAs might even have the opposite effect, protecting the patient from heart disease, if doctors find a way to filter the bad ones from the bloodstream.