Israeli researchers: Spit test could allow 10-minute detection of heart attacks
A yes/no result like a pregnancy test

Israeli researchers: Spit test could allow 10-minute detection of heart attacks

Study examines alternative to current blood-testing methods, with doctors saying results in minutes, instead of an hour, can be life-saving when time is critical

Illustrative: A doctor holds a swab and a test tube (Malkovstock; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A doctor holds a swab and a test tube (Malkovstock; iStock by Getty Images)

A new study by Israeli researchers has shown saliva tests could provide confirmation of heart attacks in patients in a fraction of the time of current methods, allowing speedier treatment for a life-threatening condition in which time is critical.

The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s 2020 Congress, held digitally this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Study author Dr. Roi Westreich of Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center said the research had sought an alternative for blood tests, which are currently used to help confirm heart attacks (in addition to physical symptoms such as chest pain, and electrocardiograms, which measure the heart’s electrical signals).

The blood tests look for the presence of cardiac troponin, a protein that is released into the bloodstream when there is injury to the heart muscle. But results for troponin tests can take around an hour, valuable time when attempting to diagnose a dangerous condition.

“There is a great need for a simple and rapid troponin test for patients with chest pain in the pre-hospital setting,” Westreich said.

As part of the study, saliva samples taken from 32 patients who were confirmed to have injury to their heart muscle were processed and tested for troponin.

“Since no test has been developed for use on saliva, we had to use commercially available tests intended for whole blood, plasma, or serum, and adjust them for saliva examination,” Westreich said.

Illustrative: A person suffering from a heart attack due to a clogged coronary artery with illustration element (wildpixel; iStock by Getty Images)

Researchers found the protein in 84 percent of the samples. A control group of 13 healthy volunteers showed no sign of it in their samples.

Westreich said results can be seen within 10 minutes, far quicker than the blood tests.

“Further research is needed to determine how long troponin stays in the saliva after a heart attack,” he said. “In addition, we need to know how many patients would erroneously be diagnosed with a heart attack and how many cases would be missed.”

Researchers will next widen their studies to a greater number of patients and are working on a prototype test specifically for saliva.

“This prototype will be tailor-made for processed saliva and is expected to be more accurate than using a blood test on saliva,” Westreich said. “It will be calibrated to show positive results when saliva troponin levels are higher than a certain threshold and show a yes/no result like a pregnancy test.”

The associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, Professor Metin Avkiran, told the Daily Mail “more work is needed to further develop such tests and determine if they are as reliable as the current blood tests… Measuring troponin in the blood provides the gold standard for diagnosing a heart attack.”

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