Imaging agent identifying heart damage

Denver – For decades the stress test has been a valuable tool for cardiologists diagnosing blood flow problems in heart attack patients.

“The stress test is designed not to detect heart damage. It is designed to detect problems with blood flow with stress,” said Dr. Carlin Long, Chief of Cardiology at Denver Health.

Because of the prevalence of heart attacks, those stress tests are administered with great regularity. According the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs every 34 seconds in this country and they are the leading killers of women. Denver Health performs between 1,800 and 2,000 stress tests a year.

Cardiologists are now closely watching a clinical trial for a new heart imaging agent that can pinpoint damaged areas of the heart. The agent is being developed by Cell Point and the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

It was initially created as a tool to identify cancer cells in the human body. By injecting a sugar into a patient, it is naturally drawn to the cancer cell along with an accompanied low level radioactive material. That radioactive material lights up during the imaging process and pinpoints the cancer cells.

Researchers later realized the same process would work for a damaged heart.

“That was just by accident. What we realized is cancer cells and damaged heart tissue feed on the same sugars,” said Terry Colip, managing member for Cell Point. “Like cancer, where the agent will go to the cancer cells and light them up, they’ll also go to the area of the heart that is damaged during a heart attack.”

In addition to providing doctors with an image of the damaged heart, the process is considerable faster than a stress test.

“What we found with this agent is you don’t need the stress study. You can just do one test and you can do the whole image in less than 30 minutes,” Colip said. “By being able to make the decisions faster you can make better medical decisions and it is better for the payer because now you’re not paying for unnecessary procedures.”

Dr. Long concurs that the speed and accuracy of the heart imaging agent would help patients.

“The benefit is having an agent that would allow for a quicker determination of positive versus negative just diminishes the amount of time that somebody has to be in a hospital setting,” Dr. Long said.

While he is encouraged by the initial findings of the clinical study, Dr. Long also is cautious regarding the use of radioactive material.

“The caveat being that anytime you’re administering a nuclear or radioactive agent for that you are exposing the patient to a finite amount of radioactivity and there are finite risks associated with that,” Dr. Long said.

Cell Point anticipates the heart imaging agent will move to the third phase of trial in 2014 and they hope to get final FDA approval in 2015.

For more information about heart attacks, including the warning signs for men and women please visit the American Heart Association website

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