Cardiac disease is the #1 killer in the world today, with more than 600,000 people in the U.S. dying from stroke, heart attack, and other cardiac disorders every year. About 715,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack yearly, and 795,000 people suffer from stroke.
Sadly, at the heart of most of these deadly cardiac tragedies lies the presence of a blood clot, that had been lurking somewhere in the person’s body but had managed to escape anyone’s attention.
The blood clot is the real threat to health, as it is what cuts off the supply of blood to the heart, the brain, the organs, or the extremities. When high blood pressure or cholesterol causes arterial damage, the blood automatically clots in order to prevent internal bleeding. Should the blood clot become too large, it will stop the blood from passing through the vessel. All organs on the other side of the clot are unable to receive blood, thus cutting off their vital supply of oxygen.
Without oxygen, the cells in the organ begin to die – also known as cell apoptosis. A heart attack or stroke results from cells in the heart or brain dying because of such blockages in the arteries, caused by blood clots.
To this day, it is a challenge to diagnose blood clots. Clots can be found in those that spend too much time sitting down, lying in bed, or even taking medication to recover from a surgery. The clots may remain undetected (as they have no external symptoms) until they cause the heart attack or stroke, which is a main reason why cardiac disorders are called the “silent killers”.
But now, thanks to a team of MIT engineers, there may be a way to detect these blood clots using nothing more than a urine test.
Sangeeta Bhatia, John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Biochemistry and member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and IMES, is the senior author of a new paper detailing a non-invasive diagnostic test that could soon allow doctors to diagnose blood clots.
The current tests used to search for clots are fairly indirect, but the new test proposed by Bhatia and his team could target blood clots easily. The test uses iron oxide nanoparticles, which are injected to travel through the body. Upon encountering thrombin – the enzyme that marks the final step of the clot-forming process – they are cut, and the fragments are released into the urine. A simple urine test can identify the presence of protein fragments, thus indicating the presence of blood clots.
The testing has been done exclusively on mice to date, but it has proven to be an effective way to detect the presence of clots without expensive equipment or invasive tests. Bhatia plans to launch a new company to market and commercialize this simple technology, which will provide doctors with a simple, easy new way to detect blood clots. By simplifying the diagnostic process, the test could save many lives by preventing clots before they break free and cause serious harm.