New “thermometer” could help diagnose heart attacks

By Staff Writer • Published: August 27th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Imagine using a device like a thermometer to diagnose a heart attack. Sound crazy? It might not be.

Korean scientists have developed a device inspired by thermometers that could help doctors diagnose a heart attack at an early stage by measuring the level of a specific protein in the blood. This method does require a blood sample but could be particularly useful for first responders and people in remote areas, where doctors may not have access to expensive equipment and tests used to diagnose a heart attack. Typically, doctors rely on electrocardiograms, blood tests in the lab and physical assessments to diagnose heart attacks.

Experts say early diagnoses could help reduce the number of deaths related to cardiovascular disease. Across the globe, 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

With just a few steps, the device could detect the amount of the protein troponin (tro-puh-nin) in the blood stream to indicate if a heart attack was occurring. According to the National Institutes of Health, this protein is released when the heart muscle is damaged. However, the current testing for the protein requires bulky and expensive equipment that is often not portable.

The Korean researchers devised a way to get results in a few quick steps. A patient’s blood sample is mixed with specialized nanoparticles in a glass vial. With troponin present, the mixture would cause the pressure in the vial to increase. The pressure would cause ink in a tube to rise, which could be read by the naked eye in a manner similar to how one reads a thermometer.

As of now, who knows whether this method will someday be used to help reduce heart attack deaths. One thing is certain — the more ways there are to help get heart attack patients the help they need, the better.