Berkeley Lab develops method of detecting cardiovascular disease

Image of Blood Pressure Cuff
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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a method of detecting cardiovascular disease that is noninvasive, affordable and more accurate than some existing technologies.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a method of detecting preclinical cardiovascular disease that is not only noninvasive, but also affordable and more accurate than some existing technologies.

The method was created by Jonathan Maltz and Thomas Budinger, affiliate scientists at Berkeley Lab. According to Maltz, he and Budinger have been working together for more than 20 years, and he has been developing this method since 2009.

“It is low-cost, simple and does not need a skilled operator,” Maltz said in an email. “It’s as simple as taking a (blood pressure) measurement with an automated (blood pressure) monitor.”

The method measures what is known as endothelial function, according to Maltz. Arteries have a lining of endothelial cells, which function to keep their walls clean. Maltz noted that when this lining does not function efficiently, plaque accumulates on arterial walls, which can lead to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Unlike routine blood pressure or cholesterol readings, this method directly measures whether an individual’s endothelial cells are functioning properly, Maltz said. He added that the measuring device has a single cuff and looks similar to a digital blood pressure monitor. The device has different sequences of cuff inflations and deflations, however, that allows it to detect changes in the behavior of artery walls.

Maltz noted that invasive methods of measuring endothelial function require the insertion of drugs through a tube into an individual’s arteries. The Berkeley Lab method, however, is noninvasive.

“Arteries, unlike veins, are at high pressure and so invasive methods are risky and painful,” Maltz said in the email. “Invasive methods are not practical for routine or repeated monitoring.”

Maltz added that the Berkeley Lab method is the only way of measuring endothelial function without using an ultrasound machine and a skilled ultrasound technician. According to a Berkeley Lab press release, the method is one-fifteenth the cost of ultrasound imagers, has higher detection accuracy than some existing detection methods and does not require experienced technicians.

The technology is available for licensing, which means the Berkeley Lab method can be used in products on the market. Maltz said the lab also has a preclinical prototype available.

According to Maltz, the device can be used in routine screening for heart disease treatment in doctor’s offices and at home as an additional feature of traditional blood pressure monitors.

Maltz added that the device can help individuals assess how their diet, smoking habits and exercise may also impact endothelial function.

“The device could identify individuals whose risk of cardiovascular events does not show up in their (blood pressure) or cholesterol,” Maltz said in the email. “It could be used to choose medications (such as some blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering drugs that also improve endothelial function) and adjust the dose so that maximum benefit is obtained.”

Amudha Sairam is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.