Researchers test high-tech wristband with potential to detect heart attack in minutes

Still experimental, the Infrasensor wearable device measures acute biomarkers of heart damage through the skin.

Researchers at the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health are contributing to a national, multicenter trial evaluating a wearable device that may reduce the time it takes to detect a heart attack to just minutes — not hours — by measuring acute biomarkers of heart damage through the skin.

This new, non-invasive technology could be employed at point of care locations like urgent care clinics and pharmacies, and on ambulances. Its use could help facilitate rapid assessment for patients experiencing chest pain and other symptoms of a heart attack, allowing healthcare professionals to swiftly initiate life-saving treatments.

Developed by RCE Technologies, the Infrasensor wristband detects various acute blood biomarkers in mere minutes. One important biomarker is cardiac troponin, a specific protein that enters the bloodstream when the heart muscle becomes damaged, such as during a heart attack. Current methods for assessing whether someone is having a heart attack take place health care settings and include taking blood samples, which are then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

“Drawing blood, sending it to the lab, and analyzing it is a multi-step process that takes time,” says Brian Patterson, MD, MPH, an associate professor of emergency medicine and lead researcher on the study at UW-Madison. “For individuals who may be having a heart attack, every moment counts.”

Delaying medical intervention while waiting for test results can lead to further heart muscle damage and poor health outcomes. The American Heart Association reports more than 800,000 heart attacks occur in the U.S. each year and recognizes the importance of early intervention.

The Infrasensor: A Non-Invasive Breakthrough

At present, blood sample analysis is a gold standard test for diagnosing heart attacks. Using a novel approach, the Infrasensor wristband harnesses infrared light to penetrate the thin skin at the wrist and analyze levels of cardiac proteins reflected back to the device.

This rapid, non-invasive method of measuring troponin (among a composite of acute cardiac injury biomarkers) could considerably augment the current diagnostic process — a pressing need, according to researchers, as millions of patients visit the emergency department (ED) with chest pain every year. While many are not experiencing a heart attack, they all require thorough evaluation, which can contribute to overcrowding in the ED and further delays in care.

The Infrasensor wristaband is envisioned to improve patient care and flow through the ED by reducing the current dependency on blood-based techniques requiring a sophisticated hospital lab. The device may make it possible to extend time-sensitive assessments for heart attack detection beyond the emergency department. For example, Infrasensor has the potential to be used by first responders and by medical professionals at urgent care clinics, outpatient cardiology clinics and pharmacy clinics — all places people who are experiencing chest pain often go to first before being redirected or transported to an ED for diagnosis and medical intervention, if needed.

Team Effort Fuels Discovery

Emergency medicine researchers at UW are among ten sites nationwide validating Infrasensor measurements against traditional blood sampling, both in healthy individuals and patients already known to have elevated levels of troponin. To ensure the device delivers consistent results across factors such as age, skin tone, and the presence of tattoos, enrollment of research participants is inclusive of a wide range of demographic groups.

Participant enrollment is carried out by the department’s clinical study coordination service — the Emergency Department Research Coordinator (EDRC) Program. In partnership with ED care teams, the EDRC Program screens and enrolls individuals into research studies at UW Health’s University Hospital seven days a week. The EDRC Program offers many services in addition to study enrollment and is open to UW–Madison researchers and industry-sponsored studies looking to conduct research in the emergency department.

While ED care team members routinely support clinical research initiatives involving ED patients, the EDRC Program recently brought on two dedicated Research Nurses to support clinical research procedures requiring nursing-level expertise with healthy, non-patient adults. Infrasensor is the department’s first study to enroll healthy research participants outside of the clinical setting.

As study enrollment ended in September, the team of researchers and research coordinators were thrilled to learn their hard work and dedication is putting UW at the forefront of discovery. The UW emergency medicine research team enrolled 209 participants into the Infrasensor study, or 30% of total participants enrolled nationwide — more than double that of any other hospital contributing to the study.

“Our EDRC team knocked it out of the park,” says Dr. Brian Patterson. “The more studies we take on and the more complex research protocols become, our research coordinators just keep rising to the challenge and pushing beyond what we thought was possible.”

Promising Implications

The many potential implications of the Infrasensor device are significant. Swift assessment of cardiac biomarkers could rule out the high volume of low-acuity patients with non-cardiac causes of chest pain and eliminate the need for follow-up blood draws in many cases. Improvements in medical diagnosis for cardiac symptoms could efficiently inform patient care and potentially ease burdens on the U.S. healthcare system.

While further research and validation are needed, Infrasensor stands as a promising innovation that could reshape the way we approach heart attack detection and diagnosis.