WEDNESDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- A new blood test may be
able to predict a heart attack before it actually happens, the
test's developers claim.
Doctors traditionally rely on treadmill stress tests to predict
heart attacks, which can tell if there is a blockage in the
coronary arteries but not whether or when that blockage might
rupture and cause a heart attack.
Enter the new blood test.
Individuals with high levels of misshapen circulating
endothelial cells (CECs) coming from the lining of blood vessels
may be at imminent risk for having a heart attack, the researchers
"We never had a way to predict a heart attack, but we are good at diagnosing it," said study author Dr. Eric Topol, of Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego. "This new test is the beginning of a very important advance, and is filling a major unmet need."
Topol has filed for a patent on the technology used to measure
CECs, along with the companies that are developing it. He said he
hopes the test will be available in the next 18 months.
The findings appear in the March 21 issue of the journal
Science Translational Medicine.
The study included 50 heart attack patients and 44 healthy
volunteers. Researchers used fluorescent images to show that CECs
from heart attack patients look much different those seen in
healthy individuals. According to the study, the levels of these
blood cells seen in people at risk for heart attack may be more
than 400 percent higher than in healthy people.
As to when the numbers of CECs start to rise to detectable
levels, "the outer window is a couple of weeks, and we think it is
about one week on average," Topol said. "Once we have cells in the
blood, the heart attack is not going to occur in the next few
minutes. We have at least a few days."
And therein lies the window of opportunity. "If we can prevent
the blood clot, we prevent the heart attack," Topol said.
Topol noted that the test could be useful in emergency rooms,
when people are admitted with chest pains but traditional tests
come back normal.
However, two experts say it's too soon to tell whether this test
could do better.
"This may be a novel biomarker for heart attack risk," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. But "the new test is not ready for prime time."
Unless and until more studies confirm the test's ability to
predict heart attack, she said, "prevention really comes down to
managing risk factors for heart attack." This includes eating a
healthy diet, making sure blood pressure and cholesterol are where
they should be, not smoking and exercising regularly.
Dr. Barry Kaplan, vice chairman of cardiology at North Shore
University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and Long Island Jewish
Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y, agreed that more study is
needed to validate what role this new test can have in predicting
"It may have potential to be predictive, but we do not know when these cells become abnormal in relation to when a heart attack occurs," he said. "All we have now is decreasing risks, particularly cigarette smoking and cholesterol levels. This is the best way to decrease the probability of a plaque rupture that will cause a heart attack."
Learn more about
heart attack risks at the U.S. National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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