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Scripps Institute develops simple blood test to predict heart attacks and strokes


March 29, 2012

New findings have identified a blood test which could predict heart attack or stroke weeks prior to their occurrence (Photo: Shutterstock)

New findings have identified a blood test which could predict heart attack or stroke weeks prior to their occurrence (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Roughly two and a half million Americans suffer a heart attack or a stroke each year. About 20% of these - half a million people - die in the aftermath. The proximate cause for both heart attack and stroke is a blood clot in the wrong place - a blood clot that could be prevented or minimized by anti-clot therapy if physicians knew that an attack or stroke was expected shortly. Recent findings from a research study led by Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) has identified a new blood test which has the promise of predicting heart attack or stroke weeks prior to their occurrence.

The STSI study studied endothelial cells circulating in the blood stream of heart attack patients and healthy control subjects. These cells, which line the surface of blood vessels, appeared normal when sampled from healthy subjects. However, they found that circulating endothelial cells in blood samples from heart attack patients were highly abnormal - enlarged, misshapen, and possessing multiple nuclei.

Normal circulating endothelial cells from a healthy subject (left) and abnormal circulating endothelial cells from a patient having a heart attack (right) (Image: Scripps Research Institute)

Heart attack and stroke generally begin with the rupture of pre-existing atheromas - accumulations of macrophage cells, lipids, calcium, and fibrous connective tissue that collect within artery walls. It now appears that the early stages of such ruptures produces abnormal endothelial cells which are swept away into the circulating blood. Circulating endothelial cells are therefore promising biomarkers for prediction of acute ongoing arterial plaque rupture - an event which often results in heart attack, stroke, or other circulatory problems.

“The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine,” said Dr. Eric Topol, one of the study’s principal investigators and director of STSI. “This has been a tremendous collaboration of two institutions on the research side, three health care systems in San Diego, and a life science industry leader, which has resulted in an important discovery that may help to change the future of cardiovascular medicine.”

It is hoped that the validity and predictive ability of the new test will be elucidated in the next year or two, and that it will become part of the arsenal of cardiovascular medicine.

Source: Scripps Research Institute

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

Just out of curiosity, who might that life-science-industry-leader be...? Novartis? Pfizer? Roche?

Charlie Channels

Great news.

And if a private company or a university makes a profit out of this, that's OK with me.

Take away the profit motive and these types of discoveries would drop to almost zero.


robo, while profit margin is admittedly a strong incentive, there are millions of people who have lost family and friends who would like to find the way to early detection.


@robo I REALLY disagree with your statement "take away the profit motive and these types of discoveries would drop to almost zero". Having been a researcher amongst a huge cohort of other researchers in health, I KNOW that most of us are just passionate to discover stuff! The people who discover the nitty-gritty that's behind huge medical breakthroughs are just research grunts on meagre salaries- or even just unpaid observers because it can be so hard to find & keep a job. Sure, drug companies sponsor research, but most BIG discoveries happen in universities and public research institutions. Development to commercial level is something else.

Kay Walker
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