University of Texas at Austin has found that early, accurate diagnosis of a heart attack may now be possible using a few drops of saliva and a new “nano-bio-chip” developed by a team of multi-institutional researchers at the University.
The nano-bio-chip is the size of a credit card and reportedly can produce reliable results within 15 minutes. Normal tests for heart attacks are done with an EKG, but sometimes this test can miss whether a heart attack has occurred (in 25% to 50% of cases). Blood tests are then done for heart attacks, but those results can take from 60 to 90 minutes, while damage to the heart can continue to occur.
Heart attacks are ranked as the number one killer in the U.S.: each 28 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack, and every 60 seconds, someone dies from one. This year alone, the University of Texas at Austin estimates that approximately 770,000 American will have a first-time heart attack and another 430,000 will have a recurrent heart attack.
According to John T. McDevitt, principal investigator and designer of the nano-bio-chip, “Many heart attack victims, especially women, experience nonspecific symptoms and secure medical help too late after permanent damage to the cardiac tissue has occurred. Our tests promise to dramatically improve the accuracy and speed of cardiac diagnosis.” McDevitt is a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, and he collaborated his research and studies with scientists and clinicians at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas.
McDevitt and his colleagues investigated the identification of a number of blood serum proteins that are significant contributors to and indicators of cardiac disease. Using microelectronics components and microfabrication that was created initially for the electronics industry, the research group developed sensor devices that detect sets of particular proteins in saliva associated with cardiac attacks.
The new diagnostic test is simple. A patient spits into a tube and the saliva is then transferred to the small lab card that holds the nano-bio-chip. The loaded card is inserted into an analyzer (similar to an ATM card) that manipulates the sample and analyzes the patient’s cardiac status. Once the saliva is applied to the chip, it runs through circuitry canals, where the proteins are pulled out and captured in nanoscale sponges. Ten thousand of these sponges can fit on a dime, McDevitt says. Next, fluorescent die is applied to the sponge, and it will glow to varying degrees based on the type of protein biomarker detected. The software analyzes the results and immediately renders a diagnosis.
The test can reveal whether a patient is currently having a heart attack and if they require immediate treatment. It can also indicate whether a patient is at high risk of having a future heart attack. So far, over 80 tests have been conducted on patients and the results have been quite promising.
The technology is a strong candidate for further commercial development through LabNow, Inc., an Austin, Texas start-up venture that has licensed the chip technology from The University of Texas at Austin. LabNow’s first lab-on-a-chip product that is currently in development targets HIV immune function testing, and it can be used in resource-poor settings in the world such as parts of Africa.
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