A simple blood test could help doctors spot potential deadly damage to the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel, new research suggests.
Acute aortic syndrome (AAS) happens when the wall of the aorta tears and blood begins to flow between the layers of the blood vessel wall.
Patients with the condition need immediate treatment, which in the most severe cases could mean emergency surgery, to prevent the artery from rupturing and the patient potentially dying.
However, diagnosing the disease in time is difficult as its symptoms, including chest pain, can be attributed to other more common conditions.
Now research funded by the British Heart Foundation, carried out by the Universities of Dundee and Edinburgh, has found that testing for a molecule called desmosine may speed up diagnosis.
The deadly disease affects around 3,000 people in the UK every year.
Researchers compared blood concentrations of desmosine in 53 patients known to have AAS and 106 people without the disease.
People suffering from AAS had almost double the concentration of desmosine in their blood.
The molecule levels were also associated with aortic growth which occurs when the aorta becomes damaged.
The research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference suggests desmosine is released into the blood when the tissues within the wall of the aorta break down.
This signal that the aorta has been damaged and is at risk of expanding or bursting, the researchers believe.
Researchers hope to use these findings to explore whether a simple blood test for desmosine could speed up the diagnosis of AAS in hospital.
Maaz Syed, clinical research fellow at the BHF department for cardiovascular sciences, University of Edinburgh, said: “Right now, acute aortic syndrome is catastrophic.
“Diagnosis is difficult, and when it comes to treatment every second’s delay can prove fatal.
“We urgently need a new, faster way to diagnose this catastrophic disease so that we can get patients the swift, life-saving treatment that they need. We need to confirm these results in bigger trials, but we hope that we have a potential biomarker that may help us detect a dangerous disease.”
Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the BHF, 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.”