New blood test predicts heart attack risk
26 March 2012
A new blood test to detect misshapen blood vessel cells may be
useful in helping doctors predict who is at risk of an imminent heart
The landmark study, led by Scripps Translational Science
Institute (STSI), found that circulating endothelial cells (CEC)
from heart attack patients were abnormally large and misshapen and
often appeared with multiple nuclei. This indicates that CECs are
promising biomarkers for the prediction of acute ongoing arterial
"The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been
considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine," said Dr. Eric
Topol, the study's principal investigator and director of STSI.
"This has been a tremendous collaboration of two institutions on the
research side, three health care systems in San Diego, and a life
science industry leader, which has resulted in an important
discovery that may help to change the future of cardiovascular
The study involved 50 patients who presented to emergency rooms
with heart attacks at four acute care hospitals in San Diego. Using
different cell isolation platforms, including the Veridex CellSearch
System, the researchers found that CEC counts and the cell
structural features were dramatically altered in the heart attack
population when compared to the healthy control group.
Normal circulating endothelial cells are on the
left. The unique appearance of circulating endothelial cells in
heart attack patients (right) may make them predictors of imminent
"We are pleased to have collaborated on this important
investigational study, said Dr Mark Connelly, Director, Cellular
Research, Veridex. "CellSearch has proven to be a powerful tool for
oncology research and the care of metastatic cancer patients. This
study highlights the value of accurate rare cell capture and
analysis in areas beyond oncology."
"When Palomar Health was approached to participate in a research
study involving this population, we were quick to recognize the
potential value of this work," said Palomar Health Director of
Interventional Services Paul Patchen, RN. "We were honoured to have
been able to contribute to this groundbreaking research that may
have significant benefit not only to our patients and community but
to all patients with coronary artery disease."
The findings are significant, as more than 2.5 million US
individuals experience a heart attack or ischemic stroke, most
commonly the result of obstructive coronary artery disease,
according to Paddy Bennett, MD, lead investigator at STSI. If the
arteries get abruptly and completely occluded by the buildup of
fatty cholesterol, it will cause a massive heart attack that will
likely lead to a sudden death, as was the case involving former NBC
News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert.
"With some additional validation, the hope is to have this test
developed for commercial use in next year or two," said Raghava
Gollapudi, MD, who was the principal investigator from Sharp
HealthCare. "This would be an ideal test to perform in an emergency
room to determine if a patient is on the cusp of a heart attack or
about to experience one in the next couple of weeks. Right now we
can only test to detect if a patient is currently experiencing or
has recently experienced a heart attack."
Results of the study, titled Characterization of Circulating
Endothelial Cells in Acute Myocardial Infarction, were published in
Science Translational Medicine.
The study was co-authored by physicians and scientists from
Scripps Health; STSI; TSRI; Veridex, LLC (a Johnson & Johnson
company); Palomar Health; and SharpHealthCare. Funding came from a
$2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) is a collaborative
program between Scripps Health and The Scripps Research Institute