New device to diagnose heart attacks at an early stage


A TEAM of Cork researchers are working on the development of a simple test that could reveal in five minutes if a patient has had a heart attack or is simply suffering from a bout of indigestion.

Dr Damian Arrigan, head of Molecular Microsystems at the Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, explained that it would be possible to carry out the test in the back of an ambulance or on-the-spot in a GP’s surgery.

The aim of the research is to create a device that will detect cardiovascular disease and other diseases in the blood or saliva at a very early stage in its progression.

“We are using electrochemistry – which is a combination of electricity and chemistry – in a very simple way to measure chemicals or biomarkers that disease causes to be produced in the body,” according to Dr Arrigan.

“If we can detect these biomarkers or indicators of disease when they are in the blood or saliva at a very low concentration, then we can detect disease at a very early stage.”

Dr Arrigan said that by using electrochemistry, the researchers could design very simple, diagnostic tests without having to rely on high-tech equipment.

The devices – which will be approximately half the size of a mobile phone – can be used anywhere, including in the back of an ambulance en route to hospital.

Different diseases produce different biomarkers which can be detected in the blood or saliva.

If all of these biomarkers can be detected, all diseases can be detected, according to Dr Arrigan.

The Cork team is currently involved in a study into the detection of proteins which start to change when disease hits the cells of the body.

They are initially targeting the proteins involved in the development of cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in the world.

Dr Arrigan explained: “When somebody presents at an AE department with pain in their chest, they often have to wait a few hours before all the tests are done and the results are back to tell if they have had a heart attack or whether they just have indigestion.

“Our test only takes five minutes and can be done in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital.”

The team is currently testing the device on non-human samples and once they have ironed out a number of technical issues, they hope to start demonstrating its clinical applications on patients in the next 12-18 months.

“Electrochemistry is easy to miniaturise so that the method now available can be easily extended in simple-to-use, hand-held analytical devices that can be operated at the point-of-need by various end-users.

“A GP could take the patient’s blood or urine sample and analyse, diagnose and feedback the results, right at his/her surgery,” according to Dr Arrigan.