Could a New Blood Test Help Prevent Heart Attacks?

Article excerpt

Byline: ROGER DOBSON

DOCTORS will soon be able to measure the stickiness of blood for the first time. The results of such tests may then help them to develop new drugs and even predict if patients are at risk from a range of conditions, from heart disease to stroke.

New equipment developed by scientists in the U.S. will measure the thickness and sluggishness of blood, too - both of which are also factors implicated in these problems.

By taking blood samples from patients and scanning them, doctors will be able to use the device to give an early warning of disease risks so that preventive actions can be taken.

The technology, which is expected to be commercially available in around three months, will also help drug-makers to design new treatments for various conditions where blood thickness plays a part.

Blood analysis has, until now, focused almost exclusively on the chemical composition of blood, such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

While blood chemistry like this is important, studies have shown that physical properties - such as the viscosity or thickness of blood - also play a critical role.

'These have been largely overlooked, but by measuring the physical parameters of blood flow and not just the chemical composition, we're opening the door to a radically different perspective on human disease, particularly atherosclerosis [a disease where arteries become blocked],' says university cardiologist, Dr Kenneth Kensey, who's based in Pennsylvania and is one of the developers of the technology.

He says that physical properties of blood directly affect blood flow, which is essential for the health of all organs.

Blood supplies the oxygen and nutrients needed for living cells and also removes the cells' waste products, so when blood flow is impeded in any way, medical problems arise, ranging from heart attacks and strokes to kidney disease and blindness.

The increased stickiness of blood is considered to be a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, and it is also suspected that the ageing process may be affected, too, by sluggish blood.

The importance of blood thickness has also been highlighted in the Edinburgh Artery Study which, since 1988, has been following the health of nearly 1,500 adults over the age of 54. …