New device makes at-home heart attack diagnosis possible

When a patient is having a heart attack, every second between symptom onset and treatment counts. In an effort to expedite access to care, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have developed a device patients can use to detect symptoms at home.

Shalini Prasad, PhD, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Nandhinee Radha Shanmugam, a biomedical engineering doctoral student, developed a flexible, mechanically stable, disposable sensor for monitoring proteins that are released into the bloodstream after heart muscle is damaged.

Low levels of these proteins—or troponin—in capillary blood, such as that found in fingertips, correlates to higher levels in arterial blood, Prasad said. For this reason, the researchers focused on detecting ultralow concentrations of troponins with high accuracy in small volumes of blood drawn from a finger prick.

Much like high-tech blood-glucose monitoring devices that require only one drop of blood to get a reading, the key to this sensor’s performance is the incorporation of nanostructures into its zinc oxide electrodes. The nanostructures enhance the binding of the troponins to the electrode’s surface, making the device ultrasensitive.  

"Our technique for growing these nanostructures on a variety of substrates opens up an entirely new and exciting research direction in the field of electrochemical biosensing for other biomolecules, like glucose, cholesterol and uric acid," Prasad said in a statement.