• Blood Test That May Predict Heart Attack

    A new blood test that may predict whether a person is at high risk of having a heart attack has been developed by researchers at Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in San Diego.

    Usually doctors can easily tell when someone is having a heart attack, but one thing they can’t do is predict an attack before it happens.

    “We never had a way to predict a heart attack, but we are good at diagnosing it,” said study author Dr. Eric Topol, of STSI.

    But that has all changed thanks to a study that devised a heart blood test to detect certain cells that are sloughed off from weakened blood vessel walls. These cells are called circulating endothelial cells (CECs), and they signal the first stages of a heart attack.

    The study involved 94 participants; 50 of them heart attack patients, the other 44 healthy volunteers. Researchers used fluorescent images to show that CECs from the heart attack patients look much different from those seen in healthy volunteers. CEC blood levels among those who had had a heart attack were over four times higher compared to those in the healthy group. According to the study, the levels of these blood cells seen in people at risk for heart attack may be more than 400% higher than in healthy people. Additionally, not only were CEC blood levels much higher among the heart attack patients, but their CECs had changed to either become larger, misshapen, and/or many had multiple nuclei.

    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,” Dr. 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.”

    Heart experts currently believe that heart attacks start days before a clot actually forms and blocks the flow of blood to the heart. And therein lies the window of opportunity.

    “If we can prevent the blood clot, we prevent the heart attack,” Topol said.

    Dr. 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, other experts say it’s too soon to tell whether this test will be useful in that way.





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