Researchers have found a way to see whether a patient is at a high risk for a heart attack by looking at his or her circulating endothelial cells (CECs) in the blood. Heart attack patients’ CECs are larger, more misshapen and have more nuclei than people who aren’t having a heart attack, scientists say.
The study, published in journal Science Translational Medicine, claims if the test is shown to be accurate, it could predict a heart attack two weeks before it occurs.
“The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine,” study researcher Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said in a statement.
Researchers and doctors from Scripps Translational Science Institute, Veridex LLC, Palomar Health and SharpHealthCare conducted the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Statistics show that more than a million people have a heart attack each year in the United States, and for half of those people, the heart attack is fatal.
There are about 124,000 heart attacks in Britain each year, with more than one in three sufferers dying before they reach hospital. Symptoms can range between men and women, but common ones are chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.
To conduct the study, researchers examined 50 people who had undergone heart attacks and went to emergency rooms, as well as healthy people who hadn’t never had a heart attack.
The scientists used a technology called Veridex CellSearch System to find that the people in the heart attack group had the abnormal CEC cells, while the healthy people didn’t.
“With some additional validation, the hope is to have this test developed for commercial use in next year or two,” study researcher Dr. Raghava Gollapudi, M.D., of SharpHealthCare, explained.
“This would be an ideal test to perform in an emergency room to determine if a patient is on the cusp of a heart attack or about to experience one in the next couple of weeks. Right now we can only test to detect if a patient is currently experiencing or has recently experienced a heart attack.”
According to The Telegraph, Prof John Martin, a cardiac specialist from University College London, said there was much better evidence that large clotting agents known as platelets building up in the blood could cause the onset of heart attacks.
He said: “I would be very suspicious about any finding that had not been demonstrated to be predicted by taking the blood before the heart attack.
“The evidence for large platelets in the circulation being causally related is far stronger than this and is based on more credible rationale.”
“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.”