A £50 blood test that diagnoses potentially deadly inflammation of the heart muscle could be available within a year, scientists said.
The researchers said this test would help identify those with myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle that can often be fatal – and get life-saving treatment early.
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 in Barts and London, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said: “Early intervention is crucial in the management of myocarditis, as 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 test for myocarditis could be a simple addition to routine blood tests ordered in physicians’ offices.
“When viewed in combination with symptoms, the results can allow clinicians to easily determine if their patients have myocarditis.
“While we still need to confirm these findings in a larger study, we hope it won’t be long before this blood test is used regularly.”
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, as the symptoms are often confused with other conditions.
It is estimated that one young person dies suddenly each 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 method for diagnosis is a heart biopsy – which is invasive and risky and can sometimes still miss signs of the 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 increased levels of T cells with cMet on their surface compared with other groups, the researchers said.
The team said their work adds to the evidence that myocarditis is an autoimmune condition.
Tests on mice showed that blocking cMet with a widely available drug reduced the severity of their myocarditis — which the researchers also want to investigate further.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Chief Medical Officer of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Myocarditis is a notoriously tricky condition to diagnose and unfortunately some patients will suffer irreversible damage to their hearts due to a lack of accessible diagnostic tests.
“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 currently used risky and invasive tests, saving the NHS time and money and freeing up vital resources.”