GTA company teams up with Waterloo researcher to develop first-of-its-kind finger prick test to detect heart failure

Toronto, ON — Monitoring for heart failure both in hospital and at home is about to get easier, more effective and less expensive, thanks to a first-of-its-kind finger prick technology developed by a Mitacs researcher at the University of Waterloo with support from Mississauga start-up LeNano Diagnostics Inc.

Considered a disruptive technology, the test kit is similar to the way a blood glucose meter works for diabetics. Patients simply prick their finger, rub the blood on a special strip, insert it into an electronic reader, and obtain a number within 20 minutes. An elevated reading means a higher concentration of BNP in the blood, indicating a patient is at risk of heart failure.

“BNP is one of the most important cardiac biomarkers used by health professionals to diagnose heart failure,” said LeNano Diagnostics CEO Charles Lu. He explained that current testing methods take longer — up to 24 hours for the most common central lab test, which requires complex machinery operated by lab professionals — or are less accurate, providing a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to acknowledge the presence of BNP as opposed to providing the actual concentration level.

As well, “patients with heart issues normally need to return to hospital or see their doctor for testing,” he explained. “Our kit is simple to use and has accurate and quantitative results, enabling patients to monitor their own levels from home.”

Lu added that the test is also Bluetooth-enabled, allowing results to be automatically communicated to a remote care provider. If levels are elevated, a physician can intervene to advise a patient to adjust their routine or call an ambulance, for example.

The technology is also designed for use by clinicians in an emergency department or other healthcare setting where fast and accurate assessment is critical.

According to Yael Zilberman-Simakov, a researcher funded by Mitacs — a national, not-for-profit research and training organization — who is leading the multi-disciplinary research and development team in Waterloo, “the primary goal of our work is to help people who suffer from chronic heart failure to live better and longer.”

“What’s unique about this breakthrough technology is that it uses low-cost electrical sensors as opposed to high-cost optical sensors,” said Zilberman-Simakov, an expert in nanomaterials. She spent the past year-and-a-half refining the product prototype and optimizing the biomedical micro sensors used to detect BNP in the blood.

With pilot projects to begin shortly, she explained that the projected commercial market size for the test kits is tremendous. Starting in Canada before extending into the U.S., Europe and Asia, she said the team is excited about the potential to offer a low-cost, easy-to-use finger prick test to help the estimated 600,000 Canadians currently living with chronic heart failure, with 50,000 more diagnosed each year. Statistics from the Canadian Heart Failure Network show that nearly one-quarter of these patients are likely to be readmitted to hospital within one year after diagnosis.

“Through our new testing system, we can alleviate some of the burden on the healthcare system while at the same time providing a more comforting environment for patients to manage their own health condition,” Lu said. “This is a high-tech, low-cost and effective solution for affordable healthcare.”

Quick facts:

  • Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 18 years. Mitacs is funded by the federal and provincial governments as well as university and industry partners.
  • Mitacs internships connect companies and organizations with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who apply their specialized expertise to research challenges.
  • Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. Open to all disciplines and all industry sectors, projects can span a wide range of areas, including manufacturing, business processes, IT, social sciences, design and more.

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