As reported by CBS News, January 5, 2011.

Myocardial Infarction Alert: Scientists Find New Heart Attack Warning Sign

By Neil Katz

Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, can happen fast and kill quickly. But scientists at the University of Connecticut Health Center say they have found a protein fragment in the blood that can be a predictor of heart attack.

The protein in question is called Caspase-3 p17. Elevated levels of it, said researchers, is a red flag for trouble.

"We've discovered a new biomarker for heart attack, and showed that apoptosis, or a particular kind of cell death, is a cause of heart muscle damage." lead researcher Dr. Bruce Liang said in a statement. "The ability to see a heart attack coming with a simple blood test and to develop new therapies to block apoptosis would enable us to get a head start on treatment and preserve crucial heart muscle and cardiac function."

Liang said a test for the protein fragment should work in humans, but has not yet met regulatory approval.

Getting a jump start on heart attacks is important work. There are more than a million coronary attacks each year in America, according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in this country, taking almost half a million people each year.

The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and included scientists from the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn.