A dark-haired woman sits at a microscope in a lab.

Predicting heart attacks

For 70,000 Canadians each year, a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death. But imagine there was a machine capable of predicting them minutes, hours or even days before symptoms appear. A machine so small and affordable, every potential coronary patient would have one.

Now imagine the lives that technology could save.

Patricia Nieva, a professor in mechanical and mechatronics engineering, is leading an international multidisciplinary team to build just such a monitor. She already has a hospital lined up for the clinical testing and a company interested in commercializing the technology within five years.

How it works

The key will be biological micro-electro-mechanical systems: BioMEMS.

These tiny devices:

  • Will draw in blood droplets.
  • Sort and filter blood components through channels finer than spider silk.
  • At the other end of these channels, optical sensors will measure the levels of various cardiac markers.

The device would share similarities with hand-held diabetes monitors that take a single drop of blood from a finger prick. But Nieva’s monitor would then measure specific proteins and enzymes, and give an instant read-out. That information could even report wirelessly to the doctor.

“If we can get this right, it will save a lot of lives,” says Nieva, who directs the Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Laboratory, where MEMS devices can be designed, prototyped, and tested. “Everyone can see the potential here. It sounds incredible, but it’s not that far away.”