Soon, test can spot heart attack before it happens

London: Scientists claim they are very close to developing a simple and inexpensive blood test which could detect a heart attack two to three weeks before it happens, a breakthrough which they say could prove "the holy grail of heart medicine". The new test, which is expected to be available by next year and cost around Rs 5,000, is being developed by a team at the prestigious Scripps Research Institute in California.

It`s believed that the rapid blood test could accurately predict heart attack risks two to three weeks in advance. Then these patients could be given drugs to thin their blood and prevent the heart attack, the researchers said. Lead researcher Dr Eric Topol said it should be possible to have a simple blood test ready for use by the end of next year. "This could be an ideal way to diagnose a heart attack waiting to happen," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

"We have potentially moved much closer to the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine in terms of predicting those who are on the cusp of a heart attack," said study co-author Dr Paddy Barrett. Heart attacks and strokes remain the biggest killer after cancer worldwide, with more than 17 million people dying each year due to of cardiovascular ailments. Most heart attacks begin with the gradual cracking of an artery that has been damaged by smoking, high blood pressure or other factors. After several weeks, a blood clot seals the damage, blocking the blood supply in the process and causing a heart attack.

Current tests of heart health are unable to pick up this cracking. In the new test, the researchers focused on endothelial cells that are released when arteries crack in the lead-up to a heart attack. They compared blood samples from heart attack patients and healthy people. This revealed differences in cells that lined the inside of the arteries before breaking off into the bloodstream. In heart-attack patients, these circulating endothelial cells were found to be much more numerous and abnormally large and mis-shapen.