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Queen's University team develops test to detect heart failure early

By Jane Kirby

A rapid blood test which detects heart failure at an early stage has been developed by scientists with the help of researchers at Queen's University Belfast.

The new test, which is being earmarked for future use on the NHS, is far more accurate than the current check and could help hundreds of thousands of people.

At the moment, doctors measure levels of a protein called B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) in the blood through a standard blood test.

Increased levels of this protein indicate a risk of heart failure, but obesity, advancing age and some medications also push up levels of BNP, meaning the test is not totally reliable.

Now experts at Queen's have now got round this problem by measuring BNP together with other key proteins in the blood.

Their study identified 25 proteins found in the blood of heart failure patients.

Further tests on 400 blood samples, taken from patients both with and without heart failure, revealed that the 25 proteins plus BNP levels provided a significantly more accurate diagnosis of heart failure, which affects about 920,000 people in the UK.

The test also picks up signs of heart failure before patients present with serious clinical symptoms, thereby preventing long-term damage to their heart.

Experts are now collecting samples from patients across the UK, Ireland, France, Greece and the US to confirm their findings.

Dr Claire Tonry, research fellow at Queen's University, said: "There's an urgent need to develop tests that can diagnose heart failure at an earlier stage and with greater accuracy in order to improve outcomes for patients with the disease.

"It's difficult to measure multiple biomarkers in blood in a single test but, through our method, we were able to quickly measure multiple proteins from a small amount of blood that's routinely collected by clinicians for measurement of BNP."

She added: "The results from the test are promising and we're now carrying out further research to see if this will be a clinically useful tool for diagnosis of heart failure."

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