07 September 2018
A blood test to better predict your risk of having a heart attack is being developed by Melbourne researchers, who hope to trial it in clinics in two to three years.
The scientists behind the research want to bring cholesterol testing, which is now more than 50 years old, firmly into the 21st century.
A limited form of the new test, which is cheap and needs only a small amount of blood, is already being trialled on patients in America.
It gives a doctor a better idea if a patient who has had a heart attack is at high risk of having another one.
The test relies on measuring the amount of certain lipids — fats — in your blood. These lipid levels seem to be different in people who have heart attacks.
The changes in lipids indicate the changes in your metabolism that typically occur before the clinical signs of disease,” says Professor Peter Meikle, who leads the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute team working on the test.
A version of the test, measuring four lipids in the blood, is being given to patients in the US.
The new test, which the team has been working on for several years, will use seven lipids for a more accurate readout.
A study on the test, released on Friday, shows it is 19 per cent better than current tests at spotting people who are likely to die from a heart attack.
It was developed by measuring 342 different blood fats in 5991 people, and then monitoring how they did over the next eight years. By looking at who had heart attacks, and who died, the team could work out which fats best predicted trouble.
The research was funded by the federal government, but the test itself has been licensed to Zora Biosciences, a Finnish company looking to market it.
So far, Professor Meikle’s test can only be used on people who have already had a heart attack. The next step will be to develop a test to predict heart attacks in healthy people.
“That’s the really exciting development. Then you could act not by taking a drug, but by simply altering your lifestyle," he said.
Biomarker tests are a major new area in medicine. A team at the University of Melbourne, for example, is working on using levels of an enzyme in the blood to predict heart attacks.
But Professor Meikle does not plan to stop there. He believes measuring blood-fat levels can tell us a lot about health, including predicting people who will develop diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Currently, doctors check your heart attack risk by measuring your cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that, if you have to much, can clog your arteries.
But cholesterol is a crude measure, Professor Meikle says, although it is still an effective test.
In fact, there are hundreds of other classes of fat circling through the bloodstream. By measuring these fats individually, he believes the test can be made more accurate.
Professor Miekle’s tests isolated a range of bad fats — but also some good ones that seem to protect against heart disease.
In particular, Omega-3s seem protective, yet more evidence we should all be eating several serves of oily fish a week.
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