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Thermometer-Like Device Could Help Diagnose Heart Attacks

Simple assay measures troponin in serum

Diagnosing a heart attack can require multiple tests using expensive equipment, but not everyone has access to such techniques, especially in remote or low-income areas.

Scientists in the Republic of Korea have developed a simple, thermometer-like device that could help doctors diagnose heart attacks with minimal materials and cost. Their approach was described in Analytical Chemistry.

Dr. Sangmin Jeon and his colleagues note that one way to tell whether someone has had a heart attack involves measuring the level of a protein called troponin in the person’s blood. The protein’s concentration rises when blood is cut off from the heart and the muscle is damaged.

Today, detecting troponin requires bulky, expensive instruments and is often not practical for point-of-care use or in low-income areas. Three-quarters of the deaths related to cardiovascular disease, however, occur in low- and middle-income countries. Early diagnosis could help curb these numbers, so Jeon’s team set out to make a sensitive, more accessible test.

Inspired by the simplicity of alcohol and mercury thermometers, the researchers created a similarly straightforward way to detect troponin. It involves a few easy steps, a glass vial, specialized nanoparticles, a drop of ink, and a skinny tube.

In the new method, dendritic platinum nanoparticles were mixed with troponin antibodies, which were used to capture troponin in human serum. The captured troponin was then conjugated to the inner surface of a glass vial, to which a hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) solution was added. After the glass vial was sealed with a screw cap containing a silicon septum, a capillary tube containing a drop of ink was inserted through the septum.

The catalytic dissociation of H2O2 to water and oxygen increased the pressure inside the glass vial and raised the ink level in the capillary tube, which could be read by the naked eye, like a thermometer. The ink level increased with the platinum nanoparticle concentration, which was proportional to the troponin concentration. The assay’s sensitivity for troponin in human serum after a 5-minute dissociation reaction, detected with the naked eye, was 0.1 ng/mL.

Sources: American Chemical Society; May 6, 2015; and Analytical Chemistry; April 20, 2015.

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