A £50 blood test that diagnoses life-threatening inflammation of the heart muscle could be available within a year, scientists have said.
The researchers said the test would help identify people with myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle that can often be fatal – and get life-saving treatment quickly.
The test is based on research published in the journal Circulation, which showed that T cells – which are a certain type of white blood cell – express a molecule called cMet in the blood, which is an indicator of myocarditis.
Professor Federica Marelli-Berg, Professor of Cardiovascular Immunology at the British Heart Foundation at Barts and London, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said: “Early intervention is crucial in the management of myocarditis. , because in some cases it can be just a matter of weeks between the onset of symptoms and the development of heart failure.
“But without a diagnosis, doctors cannot offer their patients the right treatment.
“We think this myocarditis test could be a simple addition to routine blood tests ordered in doctors’ offices.
“When viewed in combination with symptoms, the results can allow clinicians to easily determine if their patients have myocarditis.
“Although we still need to confirm these results in a larger study, we hope it won’t be long before this blood test is used on a regular basis.”
Myocarditis usually occurs after a viral infection.
While some people have no symptoms, in others it can cause chest pain, palpitations, and shortness of breath.
Myocarditis is a difficult condition to diagnose because the symptoms are often confused with other conditions.
It is estimated that one young person dies suddenly every week in the UK from previously undiagnosed myocarditis.
The incidence of myocarditis is approximately 1.5 million cases per year worldwide.
The current gold standard for diagnosis is a heart biopsy – which is invasive and risky and can sometimes still miss signs of disease.
For the study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, researchers compared blood samples from several groups of patients, including 34 diagnosed with myocarditis.
The results showed that patients with myocarditis had significantly higher levels of T cells with cMet on their surface compared to the other groups, the researchers said.
The team said their work adds to the evidence that myocarditis is an autoimmune disease.
Tests in mice showed that blocking cMet with a widely available drug reduced the severity of their myocarditis – which the researchers also want to explore further.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Chief Medical Officer of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Myocarditis is a notoriously difficult disease to diagnose and unfortunately some patients will suffer irreversible damage to their heart due to a lack of accessible diagnostics.
“This blood test could revolutionize the way we diagnose myocarditis, allowing clinicians to intervene at a much earlier stage to offer treatment and support.
“It would also reduce the need for the risky and invasive tests currently in use, saving the NHS time and money and freeing up vital resources.”