Researchers at Newcastle University have developed a method of detecting the onset of heart attacks at the earliest stage of heart failure.
Currently, patients admitted to hospital with chest pains undergo a series of time-consuming tests. The new test, which could be carried out at a patient's bedside in a matter of minutes, would speed up diagnosis and could help save lives.
Consultant cardiologist Phil Adams, from the Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: 'This new test might save something like 40-50 per cent bed-occupancy in the coronary care unit and also allow outpatient management of low-risk cases. This will have profound economic and human advantages.'
The team, based at the university's medical school, has developed equipment that identifies the presence of a protein released into the blood by damaged heart cells at the earliest stage of heart failure. The protein occurs in concentrations of about onemillionth of a gramme in a litre of blood.
A blood sample is placed on an electrode sensor coated with a specific antibody which locates the protein, bonds with it and, as a result, causes a coating on the electrode to dissolve.
This process transforms the electrode from an insulator to a conductor. The change in electrical impedence is detected, revealing the presence of the protein.
The team is working on a compact version of the equipment, which it is hoped will be available within two years. This could be the size of a personal stereo and could be placed in accident and emergency departments.