Scientists in Catalunya are now able to predict a heart attack up to three years in advance from a simple blood test – a method which, if it becomes widespread, could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.
Professor Linda Badimon and Dr Teresa Padro, research team leaders from the Catalán Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences say that both acute miocardiac heart attacks and chronic ischaemic heart failure can be predicted.
A huge problem in modern-day medicine today, is that it is hard to tell when a patient is likely to have a heart attack due to 'current markers being relatively insensitive' to detection.
However, during their study, the team found microscopic particles circulating in the blood, which come from both living cells, dead cells and those in the process of dying off.
All cells in the body release particles into the bloodstream in small quantities, but the amount increases when certain pathologies are present in their early stages, including arterial thrombosis, or blood clots, and hereditary high cholesterol.
The origins of the particles can be traced by examining their molecular components.
In the study, a total of 143 patients with high LDL cholesterol caused by genetic factors but with no clinical symptoms were given blood tests and, over the next three years, 95 of them had heart attacks, chronic heart failure or arterial blood clots. The particles in their blood were examined and were higher in the 95 who suffered illnesses – specifically, those released by platelets and leukocytes – compared with those who did not.
All 143 patients were under close medical monitoring, and there was no significant difference in their LDL cholesterol levels which could have allowed medics to determine some were at a much greater risk than others.
This new analysis of blood samples is said to be able to predict cardiovascular conditions when other clinical guidelines do not show up a major problem.
If the testing method enters into common use, it is likely to target patients with other possible risk factors such as excess bodyweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heavy long-term smokers, those with Type II diabetes, and those over a certain age.
The cost of conducting the test in all members of the general population would be prohibitive, and would not bring many benefits.