Scientists develop new blood test for heart disease

November 24, 2002

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 research published in Nature Medicine shows how a new science, developed in the Imperial College laboratories, called Metabonomics, can be used to test for coronary artery disease, using minimally invasive procedures.

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 comments: "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.

"Although epidemiological studies have proven effective in underpinning public health policy on a range of issues such as smoking and healthier diets, they have not been effective in diagnosing the presence of heart disease on an individual by individual basis."

Metabonomics offers a distinct advantage over other tests as it can be carried out on standard preparations of serum, plasma and urine, needing no specialist preparations.

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

Metabonomics is a holistic approach for examining the dynamic metabolic changes in whole organisms. It can be used to provide information on drug toxicity and efficacy, clinical diagnostics and gene function. The technology was originally developed in order to test the toxic effects of drugs but has many clinical applications as well.

Professor Nicholson adds: "Atherosclerosis is one example of many major diseases that in the future will be diagnosed more efficiently using this type of approach - it is the closest that science has come so far to the hand held diagnostic analyser used by Dr McCoy in Star Trek- but that is still a very long way away.

"In the mean time the large instruments needed for the analysis could easily be housed in most hospital environments and instrument manufacturers such as Bruker Gmbh have already built machines that could be used in this way using the new mathematical processing methods developed at Imperial."

Dr Elaine Holmes, from Imperial College London adds: "Metabonomic technology has the potential to help detect and diagnose a wide range of clinical problems from bone disease to cancer. A visit to the doctors a decade from now could be very different where a single blood or urine test might tell the doctor in minutes which diseases you are likely to suffer from and even which drugs might be most effective. Advanced technology will never replace doctors, but it will make their lives much easier and ours much safer."

Metabometrix Ltd, an Imperial College spin-out biotechnology and diagnostics company holds the rights to the atherosclerosis tests.
Notes to editors:

1. Nature Medicine, Volume 8, Number 12.
2. Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (10,000) and staff (5,000) of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website:
3. Papworth Hospital is a specialist cardiothoracic centre based in Cambridgeshire, principally serving the people of East Anglia. It provides a full range of adult services in cardiology, cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery, respiratory medicine and is the country's main heart and lung transplantation centre. It employs 1000 staff and has 225 beds.
4. Metabometrix has a large portfolio of clinical diagnostic and pharmaceutical technologies involving metabonomics approaches developed at Imperial. In particlular, the company is involved with the IC group in developing the atherosclerosis diagnostics capabilities and proving field robustness so that in the near future it will be able to assist the NHS in implementing this and related diagnostic methods based on metabonomics.
5. Dr David Grainger is a British Heart Foundation Senior research fellow and runs a molecular medicine group specialising in understanding cardiovascular disease mechanisms.

Imperial College London

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