British Heart Foundation researchers develop blood test for heart disease

By Jag Buttoo, Director of Business Development at Creavo Medical Technologies

Yesterday’s news that researchers have developed a high-sensitivity blood test that measures the level of troponin in a person’s system to predict which patients are most at risk of suffering a heart attack is exciting for the prediction and possible prevention of coronary heart disease.

Troponin, which is a protein released into the blood stream when the heart muscle is damaged, is currently used as a cardiac marker in emergency departments to indicate to a clinician whether or not someone has an acute cardiac condition. While this latest research needs to be repeated in a larger and more controlled study, it shows the advances in troponin testing. It could be a major step forward in screening and prediction of coronary heart disease and work alongside more established ways of measuring risk, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This new research appears to indicate that troponin could help doctors to help identify individuals who have silent heart disease, target treatment and then measure which patients are responding to treatment, if it works alongside the more traditional risk factors of smoking, high cholesterol or hypertension.

One issue that doesn’t seem to have been addressed yet is the complexity associated with those patients who have a residual level of troponin in their system. Indeed, this is a challenge that is still playing out with the use of high-sensitivity troponin testing in the detection and diagnosis of acute cardiac events in emergency departments. High-sensitivity troponin tests can identify trace amounts of the protein that may naturally occur in a person’s body which essentially makes them more sensitive but less specific as it could indicate that more people have a cardiac condition. From a clinicians’ point of view, this gives an increasing number of false positives and they have no choice but to send a patient for further testing, potentially resulting in longer hospital stays, unnecessary tests and placing greater strain on already overstretched healthcare systems.

VitalScan, however, ‘rules out’ cardiac-related problems and enables non-cardiac patients to be identified quickly. Where a problem is identified by VitalScan, patients can then go on to be tested using ‘rule in’ tests, such as troponin to determine the specific problem and subsequent treatment. VitalScan is potentially a key tool that will work alongside other tests to ensure that heart problems are detected and diagnosed as quickly and accurately as possible in acute medical settings.

Advances in troponin testing, be it this latest one which focuses on screening and prevention or further research into how high sensitivity troponin tests can better work in emergency departments, is positive, but it should be looked at in context and as part of a number of tests that are at a clinician’s disposal.

Click here to read article from the British Heart Foundation