Cheap blood test that could spot a heart attack may be available within a year
22:40 GMT, 21 March 2012
A simple and inexpensive test that can spot a heart attack waiting to happen could be available next year.
Scientists say they are very close to the ‘holy grail of heart medicine’ – a rapid blood test that will pick up if someone is on the cusp of a heart attack.
These patients could then be given drugs to thin their blood and prevent the heart attack.
A new blood test could help spot whether someone is on the verge of a heart attack
The U.S. researchers developing the test
believe it will be possible to predict heart attacks two to three weeks
in advance. It is hoped the test will cost under 65 per person.
In the future, it might even be possible to use microchips implanted in the body to detect the danger signs.
Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer with someone dying from a heart attack every six minutes.
The study, by U.S. scientists at the respected Scripps Research
Institute in La Jolla, California, focuses on cells released when
arteries crack in the lead-up to a heart attack.
The test will serve as a welcome relief for the elderly who are more susceptible to such attacks
Most heart attacks
begin with the gradual cracking of an artery that has been damaged by
smoking, high blood pressure or other factors.
After several weeks, a
blood clot seals the damage, blocking the blood supply in the process
and causing a heart attack. Current tests of heart health are unable to
pick up this cracking.
This means that many people who go to hospital with chest pains are sent
home with a clean bill of health, only to suffer a heart attack days
The new test would be added to those given to chest-pain
The researchers compared blood samples from heart attack patients and healthy people.
This revealed differences in cells that lined the inside of the arteries before breaking off into the bloodstream.
Footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field last week and his heart stopped for 78 minutes
In the heart-attack patients, these circulating endothelial cells were
much more numerous and abnormally large and mis-shapen, the journal
Science Translational Medicine reported yesterday.
believe the difference should be noticeable when the artery is cracking,
making it possible to predict a heart attack.
Lead researcher Dr Eric Topol said it should be possible to have a simple blood test ready for use by the end of next year.
‘This could be an ideal way to diagnose a heart attack waiting to happen,’ he said.
Researcher Dr Paddy Barrett said: ‘We have potentially moved much closer
to the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine in terms of predicting
those who are on the cusp of a heart attack.’
But British cardiac experts were more cautious, saying that while the work is exciting, it is still at a preliminary stage.
Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s medical
director, said: ‘The study only shows that patients in the throes of a
heart attack have abnormal cells.
'It does not show that such cells were
present before the heart attack started.
‘This will have to be explored in future studies. It will also be
important to show that the abnormal cells only appear during a heart
attack and are not also present in other illnesses.’