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Israeli researcher develops home heart test in Canada

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Researcher Yael Zilberman-Simakov

For years, diabetics have been able to test their blood glucose levels with a simple prick of a finger.

Now, an Israeli researcher who’s working in Canada has developed a similar technology for heart patients – an advancement that promises to save lives.

The first-of-its-kind finger-prick technology will monitor the risk of heart failure the same way diabetics do. Patients will simply jab their finger, rub the blood on a special strip, insert it into an electronic reader and obtain a reading within 20 minutes.

A high number means elevated levels of an important marker called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), indicating someone is at risk of heart failure.

It promises to be inexpensive, fast, easy and effective.

“It’s breakthrough technology,” said Yael Zilberman-Simakov, an Israeli expert in nanotechnology who’s been based at the University of Waterloo since 2015.

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With support from the Mississauga, Ont.-based start-up LeNano Diagnostics Inc., and funded by Mitacs, a non-profit, national research and training organization, Zilberman-Simakov spent 18 months developing the low-cost technology.

The disposable strips will employ carbon nanomaterial and low-cost gold electrical sensors, as opposed to more expensive optical sensors. On top of those will be antibodies that will bind to BNP. “It’s like a lock and key interaction,” Zilberman-Simakov explained.

Once a strip is inserted into the reader, a screen will display a number.

“Usually, a healthy person has less than 100 picograms per millilitre concentration (of BNP),” Zilberman-Simakov noted. “More than 400 is high risk. Between 100 and 400 is a grey zone, when a person doesn’t know or is at low risk.”

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is damaged or weakened. Survivors are left breathless and fatigued.

Currently, there is no home-use heart failure kit. Patients have to be tested in labs, a doctor’s office or, in the worst case, an ambulance or emergency room. Results can take a day.

It’s breakthrough technology.
– Yael Zilberman-Simakov

“For patients to use it in the home and in a comfortable environment is really innovative,” Zilberman-Simakov said.

An added bonus is that the reader will be Bluetooth-enabled, allowing results to be relayed to a physician remotely.

Clinical trials are expected to begin soon in Canada, before extending into the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Zilberman-Simakov hopes the kit will be available next year, with the smart-phone sized reader selling for under $100.

It’s recommended, she said, for patients with a history of heart problems, or those who are genetically predisposed to them.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has estimated that about 600,000 Canadians are living with heart failure, a condition that’s on the rise as more people survive heart attacks and other acute cardiac conditions. As people with damaged hearts are living longer, they become more susceptible to heart failure.

The kits, said Zilberman-Simakov, “will save a lot of patients and give them the opportunity to live longer and better.”