Simple blood test could detect life-threatening aortic tears

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A SIMPLE blood test developed by researchers from a Scottish university could help doctors spot deadly damage to the body’s largest blood vessel.

The University of Dundee has developed a blood test that can detect acute aortic syndrome.

Acute aortic syndrome (AAS) occurs when the wall of the aorta tears and blood begins to flow between the layers of the blood vessel wall.

Dr Anna-Maria Choy - Research News Scotland
Photo by the University of Dundee. Dr Anna-Maria Choy (above) is the Clinical Senior Lecturer at the universities School of Medicine.

Patients with AAS need immediate treatment, in the most severe cases emergency surgery, to prevent the artery from rupturing and the patient potentially dying.

However, diagnosing the disease in time is often difficult as symptoms, such as chest pain, can be attributed to other, commoner conditions.

Now, researchers at the Universities of Dundee and Edinburgh have found that testing for a molecule called desmosine may speed up the diagnosis of this deadly disease, which affects 3000 people in the UK every year.

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Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash. Researchers compared blood concentrations of desmosine in patients known to have AAS and people without the disease.

The researchers found that those suffering from AAS had almost double the concentration of desmosine in their blood. Desmosine levels were also associated with aortic growth.

The team believes that desmosine is released into the blood when the tissues within the aorta wall break down, signalling that the aorta has been damaged and is at risk of expanding or bursting.

They now hope to use these findings to explore whether a simple blood test at Dundee could speed up the diagnosis of AAS in hospital.

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash. The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), was presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference.

Dr Anna-Maria Choy, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Dundee’s School of Medicine, said, “Time is absolutely vital when the aorta develops a tear and so anything that enables clinicians to make a rapid diagnosis and begin treatment right away will undoubtedly save lives.

“Desmosine is almost the holy grail in this regard because until now we do not have reliable blood tests for aortic tears.

“This is why my colleague Dr Jeffrey Huang sought to develop a simple test that would allow for quick diagnosis.

“Using his technology, we have been able to work with collaborators in Edinburgh to prove that desmosine is a biomarker of AAS.

“The symptoms that AAS patients typically present with could have been caused by many conditions, many of them benign, so it is essential we can identify those at serious risk from this dangerous disease.

“If our test is shown to enable swift diagnosis in larger trials, then this will be practise-changing and life-saving.”

Professor James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said, This research shows that high blood levels of desmosine could act as a molecular warning sign, flagging that the aorta is damaged and that a patient needs immediate treatment.

“If the findings of the current work are replicated in larger studies, this tiny molecule could one day form the basis of a much-needed hospital test to detect AAS, speeding up treatments and ultimately saving lives.”