Simple blood test could give early warning of heart attacks
Scientists developed a simple blood test that gives early warning of heart attacks.
It is hoped that by looking at cells in a person’s blood the test will distinguish a heart attack waiting to happen from other painful but much less serious conditions.
Those determined to be at high risk of having a heart attack in the next few days or weeks could then be given potentially life-saving treatment.
Researcher Professor Peter Khun said: ‘There are plenty of other ways to suggest that you are at long-term risk of a heart attack and there are good ways of diagnosing that you have just had a heart attack but what we don’t have is the ability to say “You will very likely have a heart attack in the next three weeks and we need to do something about this now”.’
Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer and every seven minutes someone in the UK dies from a heart attack.
One in three of those who have a heart attack die before reaching hospital.
The test, being developed at the Scripps Research Institute in California, focuses on cells called CECs released when fat that is clogging up and narrowing the arteries cracks.
A blood clot then seals up the damage, blocking the blood supply to the heart in the process – and causing a heart attack.
Most of the 100,000 heart attacks that occur in the UK each year start this way.
The Californian researchers used blood samples to count the number of CECs in the blood – and showed there are more of them in people who have recently had a heart attack.
Writing in the Institute of Physics journal Physical Biology, they said: ‘This first and important validation study shows that we can clearly separate patients with a heart attack from the healthy population.’
This paves the way for a study which will check whether the number of CECs in the bloodstream can predict an imminent heart attack.
It is thought that the fatty deposits crack slowly – meaning the telltale signs will be visible in the blood days or weeks before a blood clot triggers a heart attack.
The rapid and relatively inexpensive test could be used to rule out other causes, including simple things like indigestion.
Those deemed to be at high risk could be put on drugs, including blood thinners. A stent could inserted to keep the artery open.
British experts stressed that the researchers have yet to show that the technique can pick out heart attacks waiting to happen.
Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘These scientists have found that you can detect circulating endothelial cells or CECs in the blood of patients following a heart attack, which are not found in healthy people.
‘This is an interesting finding and suggests looking for CECs could be another way of identifying a heart attack.
‘In the short to medium term, it is unlikely to change how people in the UK are treated as we already have good ways to treat and diagnose heart attacks, and targets to ensure rapid treatment times.”
This study appears to be laying the groundwork for future research to see if this test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of a heart attack.’
Daily Mail Online