By Janet Fang
Posting in Science
Scientists have found the holy grail of heart medicine: a simple blood test that can tell patients if they're in imminent danger of having a heart attack within two weeks. Look for big, misshapen cells.
A simple test that spots abnormal cells coming from the lining of blood vessels can predict a heart attack a week or two beforehand.
Heart attacks happen when fatty deposits in an artery burst open. A blood clot forms to seal the break, but if that gets too big, it blocks off blood flow.
Blood vessels are lined with ‘endothelial cells’ that control the ability of arteries to widen and prevent clots. When there are a lot of large, misshapen endothelial cells, a heart attack is imminent, the new study shows.
More than 2.5 million Americans experience a heart attack or stroke. While doctors can tell who's at risk – people with high blood pressure and cholesterol, who smoke, have diabetes, are overweight or sedentary – there's no way to tell when a heart attack is looming.
People often head to the hospital when they feel chest pain or pressure, only to be sent home when doctors can’t detect a problem with an EKG. They currently rely on the treadmill stress test, which can only determine if there’s an artery blockage – not if there’s a crack in the artery or if the plaque is poised for rupture.
(Basically, we can only tell if a person is currently experiencing or has recently experienced a heart attack.)
“The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine,” study researcher Eric Topol from the Scripps Research Institute says in a release.
Sometimes people pass the stress test, only to have a heart attack in the next few days. To help flag these patients, Topol and colleagues developed a blood test with the help of 44 healthy volunteers and 50 patients who had gone to emergency rooms with heart attacks in San Diego.
- First, they isolated and counted ‘circulating endothelial cells’ (CECs) coming from the inner lining of blood vessels.
- Then using fluorescent images, they revealed that CECs from heart attack patients look very different from those in healthy people: abnormally large, misshapen, and contain more than one nucleus.
CEC levels in heart attack patients are over 400% higher than in healthy people. “These are sick cells that have been subjected to profound inflammation,” Topol explains.
(Pictured on the right, CECs from heart attack patients. On the left, normal CECs.)
The team hopes to have this test developed for commercial use within the next 2 years. AP reports:
Topol said his team soon will begin needed studies to learn how early those cells might appear before a heart attack, and if spotting them could allow use of clot-preventing drugs to ward off damage. Some San Diego emergency rooms will study an experimental blood test with chest-pain sufferers whose standard exams found no evidence of a heart attack.
In the future, patients at risk could have a nanosensor implanted in a vein to detect the abnormal cells and then send an alert to their phone.
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine today.
Image: Scripps Translational Science Institute
Mar 21, 2012
Now we just need the nano robots to fix the damaged artery. lol. Thanks to technology i think i might reach the goal of age, 65 years old with my way of life. That will be a true miracle of science.
Although the article is very informative I still have concerns that were not address. Since the article stated "First, they isolated and counted ???circulating endothelial cells then using fluorescent images, they revealed that One in particular" However, would the results be the same for patients that are on medications such as, blood thinners
Just lost a co-worker who died from a massive heart attack. He just excused himself from a meeting and walked out to his car to get some acid reflux medicine and never came back in. By the time we got out there, he was already gone. Wish he could have had this test...the world is a little less brighter without Mike in it. God speed, my friend.
I wish this was around about 10 years ago. I was having 'chest pains', failed a stress test and ended up having an angiogram that found that my arteries were clear but the problem was a spasm in one of the arteries leading to the heart caused by stress. If this blood test had been available I could have avoided a painful and dangerous procedure. All I needed to do was relax.
It would be helpful for medical professionals if the article indicated how the CEC's are collected and identified, including morphological cellular changes.
Excellent job Janet, this is the type of info that needs to reach the public promptly. Not articles on how cancer can be cured with lime juice and my mystery netty pot made of organic cactus needles. Not that Smart Planet dispenses such drivel. I salute your ability to pinpoint one very important study that will be the basis for a great deal more research and hopefully, the prevention of permanent damage to the heart muscle. Thank you.
Watch CNN Dr Sanjay Gupta , The last Heart Attack where he interviews Bill Clinton and other Doctors about preventing this deadly situation. According to a well known cardiologist the most important thing is to check how much calcium build up is in your heart and this is done by a special exam. Check out the video on CNN to get informed. God bless us all.
Since endothelial cells not a normal component of circulating blood, wondering about the specimen used here. Thanks.
Even if that is so, this represents a new and possibly significant step in predicting an event. Bears watching, at least.
The importance of announcing this sort of research is that other people will see it who otherwise would not have known about it and who could do further studies into the subject. and may get funding on basis of the article. the race is now on for who makes the first simple over the counter test and patents it.
You are drawing a conclusion from a preliminary study. This needs further validation before anything like your headline could take place. Are you a scientific thinking person or just a reporter seeking to make startling headlines?
Great article Janet! genensandy, she is reporting what she is told by the Topol and colleagues team. What's the problem? Janet is cute, too.