Australian team develop new blood test that detects risk of second heart attacks

A blood test that quickly and easily detects whether a person is at risk of a second heart attack is being developed by Melbourne scientists at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

It is estimated more than 180 Australians have a heart attack every day and one in five of these people go onto experience a second heart attack within a year of having the first.

Discovering methods to predict who is at risk of experiencing a second heart attack may allow doctors to target patients who may need additional preventative measures.

The Baker Institute’s Head of Metabolomics, Professor Peter Meikle and his team identified a blood test to measure plasma lipid biomarkers (blood fats) that are better than traditional risk factors at predicting heart disease and stroke.

“The test was developed after a study looked at 10,000 blood samples to find the biomarkers that will determine whether a person is at risk of having another heart attack,” Professor Meikle said.

The revolutionary biomarker blood test will be trialled in Australia over the next two to three years as part of a broader personalised precision health program currently under development. Eventually, a GP will be able to request this test in order to better assess a patient’s risk of developing heart disease.

“We hope to identify those individuals who are at greatest risk of a second heart attack so that they can be closely monitored and treated accordingly.

“While there are thousands of lipids in the blood our challenge is to identify the ones that best predict disease outcomes.”

To date, a prototype of this test has been trialled in America, but the prototype only provides GPs and patients with limited information on the basis of two lipid markers, and it is not yet available in Australia.

The Australian test will be a simple blood test, similar to the process and cost of having a cholesterol test. It could easily be operated out of hospital pathology laboratories that already contain the necessary equipment.

“Our test will use up to ten lipid markers to better diagnose heart disease. It’s a challenging, yet very exciting time. We effectively have the information and are in the process of refining the technology,” said Professor Meikle.

“Once the protocols for a diagnostic heart disease blood test are in place, it will be possible to add additional markers so the test can also be used to predict diabetes and potentially Alzheimer’s disease as well. The test will reclassify a patient’s risk of heart attack and stroke. It will better identify who within the ‘intermediate’ risk category are in fact, at higher risk, and help guide physicians in the appropriate treatment of patients.”

This discovery by Professor Meikle and his team is a prime example of the high quality of Australian research occurring at the interface between molecular biology and clinical care.  “Australia requires strategic investment and coordinated leadership to increase capacity and accelerate the discovery of effective, personalised treatments that improve the health of Australians,” says Professor Gemma Figtree, President of the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance.

Reference: JCI Insight. 2018;3(17):e121326.