Flawed online calculator forces docs to reconsider cholesterol guidelines

An online calculator developed to help doctors identify risks and treatment options associated with high cholesterol overestimates such risks by as much as 150 percent, according to a research letter to be published this week in The Lancet, the New York Times reports. The flawed tool has been so widely panned that Steve Nissen, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and past president of the American College of Cardiology, is calling for implementation of new guidelines for lowering cholesterol unveiled last week to be halted.

The calculator's problems derive from the fact that it uses outdated data as a primary source of information. That, in turn, means that the developers of the new guidelines used patient information from more than a decade ago in determining how cholesterol causes heart attacks and strokes.

"It's stunning," Nissen told the New York Times. "We need a pause to further evaluate this approach before it is implemented on a widespread basis."

Potential consequences associated with the calculator's use, according to Paul Ridker and Nancy Cook--authors of the Lancet commentary--include suggestions that certain patients use statin drugs. The former is the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital.

In the meantime, a collaborative effort by the American Heart Association, Boston University and the University of Mississippi unveiled on Sunday at the AHA's Scientific Sessions in Dallas will use genomic datasets to boost personalization of heart disease treatment. The collaboration--dubbed Heart Studies v2.0--aims to assist in the building of a new biobank that would increase researcher access to relevant population studies, according to an announcement from the University of Mississippi.

"The advent of 'big data' and genomic science will transform clinical medicine in the next decade," said Gary Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, which provides support for research that will be expanded upon in the new effort. "This innovative AHA partnership and new resource is an exciting opportunity to create synergy for a large-scale, national network of datasets that build upon the data-sharing biorepositories provided by NHLBI cohort studies."

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- here's the University of Mississippi announcement

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