New test warns of blood pressure risk

November 15, 1999

The CSIRO has developed a world-first diagnostic test which can predict whether young adults and teenagers are at risk of developing hypertension - a potentially fatal disease in which the blood pressure is abnormally high.

Hypertension usually develops after the age of 40, affects up to 25 per cent of the population, and plays a part in 500,000 deaths in the US each year.

The CSIRO technology to test a person's predisposition to hypertension uses a simple, non-invasive mouthwash to extract human cheek epithelial cells, which then have their sodium ion transport activity measured.

"This process shows that sodium transport activity is about 50 per cent lower in adults with high blood pressure, compared to the normal population," said project leader, Dr Ted McMurchie, from CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition.

"But what we have also found is that adolescents and young adults who have a significantly lower rate of sodium transport in their cheek cells are those who are considered at greater risk of later development of hypertension."

Those identified as being at greater risk can then take preventative health measures, such as changes to their diet and lifestyle, to reduce their chances of developing hypertension.

The CSIRO believes the test has commercial potential for pharmaceutical diagnostics companies.

Health Sciences and Nutrition Commercial Manager Tony Murphy says an industry partner could develop and refine the technology.

"Currently the test uses a radioisotope in the diagnostic process which precludes routine clinical application," he said. "But our scientists believe it is possible to develop the technology and eliminate the use of a radioisotope. We hope to work with the pharmaceutical industry to ensure the technology can achieve this and reach its potential."

Hypertension contributes to complications such as heart disease or heart failure, stroke or brain damage and is a leading cause of health problems in men over 50.

Reduction of blood pressure through improved exercise and diet is an important factor in managing hypertension.
More information:

Dr Ted McMurchie, 61-08-8303-8951

Mr Tony Murphy, 61-08-8303-8869

Ms Jenny Rhodes, 61-08-8303-8870

CSIRO Australia

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