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Biomedical grant may lead to quicker detection of heart attacks

When diagnosing and treating a heart attack, a few minutes can spell the difference between life and death. Now, researchers have received a grant that will help them produce a medical device that can cut minutes or even hours off the time it takes to begin life-saving treatment.

The Florida Department of Health has announced the award of a James & Esther King Biomedical Research Program grant in the amount of $99,942 to help fund the development of a device that will allow for rapid detection of acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, in patients who experience chest pain or other symptoms commonly associated with the life-threatening condition.

Ching-Jen Chen, dean of the Florida A&M University/Florida State University College of Engineering and director of its Center for Nanomagnetics and Biotechnology, will split the grant with Nanomagnetics & Biotech Inc., a small business that has contracted with FSU to manufacture various patented products.

"This device has the potential to help save thousands of lives each year," Chen said. "If we’re successful, this will mark a tremendous step forward in our treatment of heart attacks and possibly other conditions."

According to the American Heart Association, about 1.2 million Americans will suffer a heart attack this year—and about 494,000 of them will die. Many of those will die within an hour of suffering the attack and before reaching a hospital emergency room.

Chen said that proteins are released into the bloodstream at elevated levels when a person suffers a heart attack. The new device, which is under a U.S. patent, will use magnet technology to separate these "cardiac markers" out of a small blood sample, allowing for much quicker measurements than was previously available.

In addition to its speed, another advantage of the device will be its size. Chen and the workers from Nanomagnetics & Biotech Inc. hope to make it small enough for emergency medical personnel to carry in their pockets so that they can test potential heart attack victims on the spot.

"The faster we can detect heart attacks, the greater the likelihood of survival for the patient," he said. "By miniaturizing the device, we hope to make detection even faster."

FSU President T.K. Wetherell cited the new device as a prime example of how university-sponsored research can benefit society.

"The partnership between the College of Engineering and Nanomagnetics & Biotech
Inc. is an example of a state university doing important research with a Florida business that can produce tangible results and have a dramatic impact on the health care industry," he said.

The Center for Nanomagnetics and Biotechnology, created by FSU in 2003, is a collaboration among researchers at the College of Engineering, the FSU College of Medicine and FSU’s biology, physics and chemistry departments. The center works to build devices using "nano" magnetic materials—which are 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—to manipulate how cells or proteins work.

In addition to the heart-attack detection device, the Center for Nanomagnetics & Biotechnology and Nanomagnetic & Biotech Inc. currently are working on several other cutting-edge research projects. Among them:

  • Development of magnetic molecules that can be injected into the body, allowing for targeted drug delivery to specific cells or locations.
  • Development of a process called magnetic hyperthermia, which would provide an effective new method for shrinking cancerous tumors. It also would require far fewer treatments and have significantly fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
  • Creation of a soft magnetic gel that may provide an effective new means for retina reattachment. Retinal detachment is estimated to cause 150,000 Americans to become blind every year. The new gel would be inserted by an eye surgeon into the retinal repair region, and a tiny magnetic buckle would be used to hold the gel in place.
  • Development of tiny, magnetized mechanical pumps that can be implanted under the skin, allowing for a steady, controlled delivery of drugs into the patient’s bloodstream.