Heart attacks could be predicted up to a fortnight in advance by testing blood for high levels of warning cells - circulating endothelial cells (CECs) that sloughed off damaged vessel walls in a patient's blood, scientists claim. Such a blood test could help save at-risk patients who had normal stress tests. Every year several patients walk away from the hospital after having passed a stress test, only to suffer a devastating
heart attack within a few weeks. A healthy person has very few circulating endothelial cells. But a person with mild cholesterol buildup can develop a crack in an artery wall that disrupts the lining and sends these cells into the bloodstream.
Since the cells are most likely released by rupturing of the arteries in the weeks leading up to a heart attack, physicians can spot the warning signs as they build up.
Heart attack patients had 19 endothelial cells per milliliter, on average, versus 4 in healthy individuals. The cells in patients with a heart attack were clustered together and large, and had multiple nuclei (organelles in the cell that hold the DNA).
Dr. Raghava Gollapudi, one of the lead researchers, said, "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. With some additional validation, the hope is to have this test developed for commercial use in next year or two."
The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.