Heart attack test: fast diagnosis with x-ray vision

September 19, 2011 3:02:45 PM PDT
Is it a heart attack or just indigestion?

A Harvard study states six-million people who went to hospital emergency rooms for chest pain in 2009, only about 20 percent were actually having heart attacks. Now, researchers are working on a faster way to tell doctors and patients what's really going on.

Chris Paradowski knows now what he thought was a heart attack was really just a false alarm, but it took several hours in the e-r to find out.

"I thought, too bad there's not an easier way," he said.

Cardiologist Dr. Greg Lanza agrees.

"The primary problem that we wanted to address was the issue of patients coming into the emergency room with chest pain who have to go through significant testing only to find out they never really had coronary disease," Lanza said.

Lanza's team at Washington University is working on a rapid test to get heart attack patients fast treatment -- and people without heart disease home fast. The test takes minutes, instead of hours.

"What we specifically do is we identify the signature of a heart attack, and that's clot," Lanza said.

The patient would be injected with a solution containing millions of tiny nano-particles designed to bind to proteins that form blood clots in the coronary artery.

In experimental models, spectral c-t scan imaging works like x-ray vision to detect the particles and light up the clot.

"That's the basis of a heart attack. That's what these particles will see," he said.

It could be the diagnostic imaging tool of the future -- separating false alarms like Chris's from the real thing when every second counts

This heart attack test is still experimental. The research phase of the project is continuing with clinical trials still a few years down the road. This same spectral c-t technology is also being tested to provide an early warning for stroke.