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Tiny sensors monitor heart attacks

18 March 2011

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Category: Research & medical benefits

heart–attack–sensors–mri.jpgThe severity of a heart attack can be determined using tiny implanted sensors, according to new research on mice. Similar sensors could be used to monitor people at high risk of heart attack.

Heart attacks are not always noticed immediately, as people do not always suffer the characteristic chest pains. In this case, proteins release by dying heart cells have often disappeared by the time a suspected heart attack is diagnosed. This makes it difficult to determine the extent of the damage from simple blood tests.

But the new implants can measure these proteins as they leak into the fluid underneath the mouse's skin. The sensors contain iron oxide nanoparticles covered in antibodies, each of which can pick up a different target protein. When the particles bind with their target protein they form iron clumps. These can be picked up in an MRI scanner as they are magnetic.

The amount of protein produced is linked to the amount of damage from the heart attack. This allows scientists to gauge the extent of the heart attack from the size of the magnetic clumps observed in the MRI scan.

These 8mm-wide implants could be put in people in people at high risk of heart attack to monitor heart damage. However, scientists caution that creating durable devices that will last for years inside patients is a technical challenge that still needs to be overcome.