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  • Scientists are working on a test to determine who is at risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Current methods to detect heart disease include looking at stress tests, CT scans, and family history.
  • The new blood test is still being studied to determine if it is accurate enough to roll out on a wide scale.

Heart attacks are among one of the leading killers in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease, and about 659,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease each year.

Now, scientists have been working on a blood test method to better predict who is at risk of a heart attack, ultimately leading to better prevention of heart attacks altogether.

The blood test, developed by researchers at SomaLogic in Boulder, Colorado, measures proteins in the blood that show whether or not someone is at high risk of a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure within the next four years.

Current methods for heart disease detection include discussing family history and methods like electrocardiograms, stress tests, CT scans, and MRIs, among others.

The issue with genetic tests is that they only paint a vague picture, while protein analysis can give a more acute look at an individual’s actual cellular makeup at that exact moment.

“Currently, most physicians rely on traditional risk factors for heart disease, like blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, to evaluate an individual’s risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Aeshita Dwivedi, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY. “Further testing may also be used to diagnose heart disease in the appropriate individuals. However, a lot remains unknown as to who may or may not develop cardiovascular disease.”

The test analyzed 5,000 proteins in blood plasma samples from 22,849 people. It identified 27 proteins that may be used to predict the chances of a heart disease-related event as far out as four years. The test also measured the risk of a cardiac event for people who previously suffered a heart attack or stroke and are currently on medication to reduce their risk.

“Unlike prior work that has focused on measuring specific proteins, the intricate study measured roughly 5,000 proteins in each blood sample,” said Dr. Richard Gumina, Associate Dean of Convergent Research, Associate Professor of Medicine, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “The finding that the observed events were higher than the model predicted in a separate group of participants with known cardiovascular disease suggests that additional factors not accounted for in the analysis are at play.”

“This study aims to identify surrogate proteins in our body, which may help to enhance identifications of mechanisms for heart disease and aid development of treatment options,” said Dwivedi.

According to the initial research, this blood test may be twice as accurate as other methods of testing whether or not a person is at risk for a cardiac event.

If the blood test results are found to hold up in wider studies, this information could potentially be used to predict and treat heart attacks much quicker. Additionally, it could potentially help speed up the development of new cardiovascular drugs.

Currently, the test is being used in four healthcare systems within the United States.

“If such data pan out, over a course of time, this may aid in our understanding of cardiovascular disease, as well as development of treatment options to treat it,” said Dwivedi.

The results that the researchers found ended up being twice as accurate as existing methods of detection, which evaluate several factors like age, sex, medical history, blood pressure, etc.

The results are promising, and while the blood test is being used already in the U.S., more studies may have to be done before it is universally accepted.

Dwivedi said, “More studies need to be performed in large scale populations to validate these findings. The authors studied a high-risk population, but to be useful in the future, this data also needs to be validated in low- to intermediate-risk individuals.”

“Overall,” she added, “it’s a promising study that uses technology to try to advance medical science.”