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Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 22:22 GMT
Test to predict heart danger
 Test tube and pipette
The new test could predict heart disease
High frequency radio waves can be used to analyse blood samples and predict which belong to patients in imminent danger of a heart attack.

The new test, developed by scientists at Imperial College London, and Cambridge University, could help spot high-risk patients early so treatment can be arranged.

Its inventors claim that it could remove the need for more invasive tests such as angiography in some patients.

The technique, called Metabonomics, needs only a few drops of blood.

In small-scale trials, it matched the accuracy of a full angiography test in 95% of cases - and predicted the severity of the heart disease in 80%.


It is the closest that science has come so far to the hand held diagnostic analyser used by Dr McCoy in Star Trek

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, Imperial College
The high frequency radio waves are bounced into the sample to measure the magnetic properties of the molecules in it.

The blood of a patient suffering from hardening of the arteries - atherosclerosis - gives a different reading to that taken from a patient without this problem, because it contains different chemicals - perhaps higher levels of fats such as cholesterol.

Advanced computer software is now able to interpret these differences with an increasing degree of accuracy.

The makers of the new test claim it could "revolutionise" heart medicine.

Dr David Grainger, from the University of Cambridge, said: "Thousands of people die in the UK each year from heart attacks.

"Many of these lives would be saved if we could pick out people with heart disease quickly and cheaply.

"Through new techniques, such as this, doctors may be able to provide an effective screening service, saving many."

Bigger tests

Large trials of the system is currently under trial at Papworth Hospital near Cambridge, and if these are successful the test could be available more widely within two years.

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, from Imperial College, said: "Atherosclerosis is one example of many major diseases that in the future will be diagnosed more efficiently using this type of approach.

"It is the closest that science has come so far to the hand held diagnostic analyser used by Dr McCoy in Star Trek - but that is still a very long way."

At the moment, a large machine is needed to complete the analysis, but it is hoped that this could be reduced in size over time.

Research on Metabonomics was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"It could be a cheaper and safer alternative"
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11 Oct 02 | Health
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