A GROUP of researchers are developing a hand-held device that could detect heart disease from a few drops of a patient’s blood in just 10 minutes.
Experts at St George’s University of London are involved in the device’s manufacture alongside other universities across Europe, and will test the prototype once created.
Although the devices are currently in production, they will need to undergo robust pre-clinical and clinical testing at St George’s before their expected release in 2020.
Dr David Gaze, a cardiac research scientist at St George’s University Hospital and one of the experts behind the work, said: “These devices will allow tests to be done rapidly, either in emergency departments, coronary care or, if sensitive enough, pre-hospital settings such as ambulances or GP surgeries.
“This can speed up diagnosis and more importantly triage patients to the appropriate cardiac facility.”
Heart disease is responsible for nearly two million deaths per year and accounts for 40 per cent of all deaths in the European Union at a cost of £154 billion to the EU economy.
The PHOCNOSIS project is a scientific study funded by the European Union which brings together clinical academic experts and science bioengineers.
Its aim is to develop a novel point of care device that measures cardiovascular biomarkers – indicators which tell doctors whether patients have heart disease or not – and to replace less-sensitive devices already on the market.
Dr Gaze said: “There are some devices on the market already that we can use as point of care cardiac biomarker tests. These are based on lateral flow technology, similar to home pregnancy testing kits, where a coloured line indicates a positive result.
“The problem with these though is that they lack sensitivity.”
Professor Paul Collinson, a consultant chemical pathologist also at St George’s University Hospital, thinks being able to quickly identify heart disease would also change people’s idea of hospitals.
“The ability to do testing when I’m next to the patient and make a decision has a lot of benefits. It will give patients a better experience as they won’t have to wait in hospital beds for results,” he said.
“We are focusing on heart disease as it is the largest single medical condition that brings people to hospital. But of the people who come in with suspected heart attacks, 70% do not have one.”
Electrocardiograms (ECGs) are the traditional method used in hospitals to detect heart disease but Dr Gaze doesn’t think these are accurate enough and take too long to do.
He said: “We use biomarkers to define people with normal ECG’s who have had a heart attack, but these are really only done when the patient arrives in the hospital, not beforehand.
“These take time to do, as samples have to be drawn and sent to the laboratory, so these devices will allow us to prevent heart attacks before they happen.”