What if a simple blood test could tell you whether or not you were at risk for heart disease? What if that same test could not only tell if you were at risk for heart disease but also gave an estimate for when it would develop and how severe it would be when it manifested? If such a test existed, how might that change the face of heart disease and how it’s treated? The December 8, 2010, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, published results of a UT Southwestern Medical Center study: the study focused on the use of a new blood test which may be a more definitive predictor of heart disease, and even death from heart disease, than other currently existing tests.
When you enter the emergency room with chest pains, it’s sometimes difficult to make a determination as to whether the pain is caused from a heart attack or a different underlying cause. One of the tools available to emergency room physicians is a blood test that checks for the presence of a protein, cardiac troponin T (cTnT). The presence of cTnT in the blood has been linked to heart disease and if found, might indicate that the patient is undergoing a heart attack. The problem with the standard test for cTnT is that it only detects the protein in a very small percentage of individuals tested. Since detection is so low using the existing test, its usefulness was limited.
In the Southwestern study, researchers examined the ability of a new, more sensitive test to detect the presence of cTnT. As a part of the study, researchers examined blood samples for the presence of cTnT. They also examined the results of additional tests designed to aid in reviewing the heart such as tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Participants ranged in age from 30 to 65 years. There were more than 3,500 participants. Researchers followed the participants and monitored their condition from 2000 to 2007.
Researchers found that unlike the existing test, the new test is able to detect cTnT protein at lower levels. The standard test used is only able to detect the presence of cTnT in about one percent of the general population.