Handheld scanner to give instant heart disease diagnosis

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European scientists have developed a handheld scanner that can diagnose the early signs of cardiovascular disease at the click of a button. According to the researchers, the device could provide a way of mass screening those at risk for cardiovascular conditions, which if treated early enough can be halted or reversed.

The EU-funded team hopes to market the scanner at around €1,500, making it much cheaper than existing screening tools.

According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the world today. In 2015, more than 17.3 million people - roughly 30 per cent of all global deaths - died as a result of cardiovascular conditions, such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks or strokes.

CVDs can be identified using a number of medical tools, including cardiac biomarkers, cardiac catheterisation, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), Holter monitoring, and cardiac MRI.

However, because they are complicated or expensive, routine early forecasting of CVD is impossible in large populations at present.

This new diagnostic tool developed by the EU's Horizon 2020 collaboration 'CARDIS' (standing for 'Cardiovascular disease detection with integrated silicon photonics'), can read the heart's vital signs with one click of a button, similar to the way a handheld supermarket scanner can scan barcodes at the checkout.

Heart vibration mapping  

Employing a technique known as laser doppler vibrometry, the device can pick up vital information about the status of the heart using light, in a fast and inexpensive way. It works using the 'Doppler effect', the phenomenon used to observe changes in pitch of light or sound from a fixed point, for example when an ambulance siren passes and changes in tone.

Using the 'Doppler shift' of the reflected light, the scanner builds up a 'vibration map' of the chest and heart area, which can highlight the tell tale signs of CVD, such as plaque build-up, arterial stiffness, arterial stenosis or heart dyssyncrony. Project coordinator Dr Mirko de Melis explained: 'A stiff artery creates a faster pulse pressure from the patient's beating heart. By measuring the "pulse wave velocity", we can assess the stiffness of the arteries using light and make informed judgements, long before the onset of cardiovascular disease.'

Although there are a number of vibration sensors that exist for this purpose, LDV is non-invasive and provides a much higher degree of accuracy in a fraction of the time. 't present, millions considered to be low or moderate risk are walking around undiagnosed. It is our long term goal to place such a device in the hands of the GP, the first point of contact for the mass population, as part of a routine health examination,' de Melis added.

The screening of potential sufferers, for example those in their early 40s, would delay the onset of the condition by five to 10 years. 'Assuming a sufferer would comply with the health advice given and adopted a change in lifestyle, this device allows the medical professional to halt or even reverse CVD,' De Melis said.

The Cardis team believes the key to the success of a mass screening programme at the GP-patient level are the inexpensive and portable nature of the new laser scanner:

'Our device would be cheap, easy to use and extremely effective. With cost of an Echocardiographer anything above €100,000, and an arterial tonometer at €5,000-6,000, the Cardis scanner would be reasonably priced at around €1,500. However, it is the potential savings on our health services caused by the early diagnosis and prevention of CVD that will be the most rewarding,' De Melis explained.  

While the EU consortium is happy with their demonstration model, Cardis will be ready to unravel their prototype in the summer of next year.

Administrated in Belgium at the Inter universitair Micro-Elecronica Centrum, with Medtronic being the Technical coordinator, the CARDIS project received a grant of more than €3m from Horizon 2020 via the Photonics Public Private Partnership.

Participants from six European countries include: (Netherlands) Medtronic Bakken Research Centre BV, Universiteit Maastricht; (Germany) SIOS Messtechnik; (Belgium) Universiteit Gent, Fundicio BVBA; (United Kingdom) Queen Mary University, (University of London); (Ireland) University College Cork, National University of Ireland; (France) Institut National de la Santeet de la Recherché Medicale.