At the heart of the matter

Scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge have developed a rapid new blood test which may help predict the likelihood of a heart attack.

The test, which only needs a few drops of blood, measures the magnetic properties of molecules in blood using high frequency radio waves, which are then analysed using an advanced computer programme capable of detecting abnormal patterns of signals associated with heart disease.

At present, the most effective method of testing for coronary heart disease is through the use of angiography. While very effective at showing how much of the blood flow to the heart is obstructed, angiography is both costly to the NHS and highly invasive to the patient, and in a small number of cases can have serious adverse effects including stroke and kidney damage.

Dr. David Grainger, from the University of Cambridge, comments: ‘Thousands of people die in the UK each year from heart attacks. Many of these lives would be saved if we could pick out people with heart disease quickly and cheaply. Through new techniques, such as this, doctors may be able to provide an effective screening service, saving many lives.’

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, from Imperial College London added that: ‘This new test could completely revolutionise heart medicine. Coronary heart disease is a major cause of mortality and morbidity, affecting as many as one in three individuals before the age of 70 in the developing world.

Trials of the test are already underway at Papworth Hospital, one of the leading heart hospitals in the UK, and if these are successful the test could be widely available within two years.