U.K. crew eyes biomarker as flag for atrial fibrillation complications

Patients with atrial fibrillation, a common cardiac arrhythmia, are often at a heightened risk for stroke and other health problems. But researchers in the U.K. and elsewhere believe they have identified a biomarker that can help screen for folks who face a greater likelihood of complications.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and colleagues pursued the research, and the journal CHEST details their work. MedPage Today highlights the findings.

The research team studied 1,279 elderly atrial fibrillation patients treated with an oral drug to prevent blood clots, according to the story. With this class of patients, they found that high levels of beta-trace protein, or BTP, could be linked to larger risks of everything from "embolic events" to cardiac problems, bleeding and death. Additionally, they surmised that BTP levels added to other risk scores helped improve the process of identifying potential health complications in atrial fibrillation patients.

Interestingly, BTP has already been in play as a possible biomarker, but for factors such as kidney damage, inflammation and hypertension, the MedPage Today article pointed out. 

These are promising early results, but the data include plenty of limitations. As the article notes, the researchers themselves acknowledge that their work only looked at patients on a regular oral anticlotting drug at a certain point in time. Further research must include a broader class of patients to determine if BTP can be a reliable biomarker to help identify atrial fibrillation patients with an added risk of other health problems.

As hard as it might be to spot atrial fibrillation patients at risk of more problems, doctors struggle to definitively identify the condition in the first place and apply targeted treatments. The med tech industry, meanwhile, is trying to fill the gap. Topera, a 2013 Fierce 15 winner, recently won U.S. and EU approval for a 3-D device and mapping tool designed to better detect cardiac rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation in order to enable more targeted and accurate treatment. In late August, St. Jude Medical ($STJ) snatched up Endosense, which makes a cutting-edge irrigated ablation catheter designed to treat atrial fibrillation, and rival companies are developing or promoting electrophysiology treatments and other devices for the condition.

- read the full story
- here's the journal abstract