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New Device Could Help Predict A Person’s Risk Of Heart Attack Without Leaving The Couch

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

A small start-up in East Liberty is working on an in-home test kit that could help predict the risk of having a heart attack.

Accel Diagnostics is placing a common blood test done in hospitals onto a device no bigger than a credit card.

Vice President of Engineering Greg Lewis said the test could measure B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) or troponin, both of which are released when heart muscles are overly stressed.

The idea is to know when a patient is at high risk for things like a myocardial infarction or a heart attack within three to five weeks.

A BNP test is routinely done in emergency rooms when a patient is complaining of chest pains or shortness of breath. The goal is to see if the symptoms are related to heart problems or if doctors should consider something else, such as an allergic reaction or pneumonia.

Some larger doctors' offices have invested the few thousand dollars needed to purchase BNP testing machines, but Allegheny Health Network Cardiovascular Institute Medical Director Srinivas Murali said it could be useful to be able to more easily test for BNP levels in an office or even at home.

Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Accel Diagnostics' blood testing device is no bigger than a credit card and can detect particles that would indicate if someone's likely to have a heart attack.

He said it could come in handy for a patient with a history of heart problems who may experience shortness of breath, or other heart attack precursors, while watching TV after dinner. That person could know in just a few minutes if they can just wait it out, or if it’s something more serious.

“If you have a BNP test and the BNP is high, that means that it’s very highly likely that the shortness of breath is coming from the heart and that might direct you to go to the emergency room or call the doctor on call or however you want to handle that,” Murali said.

To use the Accel Diagnostic test, a patient places a few drops of blood on a small opening in a plastic card. Once the blood is absorbed, it goes through micro channels inside the card. Part of it displays the volume of blood collected and the remainder of the blood is tested using Accel’s proprietary process and sent to a second thermometer-like display to indicate how much BNP has been detected.

“What we can do is we can analyze the ratio between those two columns and we can run that through and algorithm that we’ve developed and that will spit out the concentration of those bio markers,” Lewis said.

But Lewis doesn’t want to make patients do the math, so they are creating a smart phone app that would allow the patient to simply take a picture of the test card.

“It would measure those two columns,” he said. “It would compare the ratios. It would run all that through an algorithm and it would provide a number. And that number could be transferred directly to a physician through a secured cloud-based server that’s HIPA compliant.”

The whole process right now takes about 20 minutes.  The goal is to cut that in half or less. 

At the same time, Accel is hoping to produce the test at a cost that would allow for it to be sold below the Medicare reimbursement rate of $45 to $60 per test.

BNP testing could become a multi-billion dollar market, Lewis said. But Accel does not want to stop there.

“This is a platform technology so we can very easily tweak one or two parts of this (test card) and very easily shift it from testing for BNP to traumatic brain injury marker, to a sepsis marker (or) to a cardiac bio-marker test for canines,” Lewis said.

Moving into the canine market could be important for Accel. Lewis said there are very few labs that process canine BNP tests, which means it can be several days between a visit to the vet and an owner getting test results, so demand could be high. 

The move could also allow the company to start seeing earlier than expected revenues. Getting approval for use in the veterinary space is much less time consuming than getting FDA approval for human use. 

In this week's Tech Headlines: 

  • Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recently received a nearly $3 million award to develop a technology that would help decide if a rotator cuff injury should be treated with physical therapy or if the patient should go under the knife. The money from the National Institute of Health is to be used over the next five years. School officials said 30 percent of all visits to orthopedic surgeons are related to rotator cuff injuries.  
  • Facebook officials said some 450 million people use its site to buy and sell anything from cars to baby clothes. In response, the company is launching a separate "marketplace" section that would make it easier for users to get rid of things like an old record collection. Facebook tried a similar feature nine years ago but it didn't catch hold. However, the company stressed that was before most people were using Facebook on their cell phones which can easily capture images of the for sell items.
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