Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Quick test: This shoebox-sized device from Spartan Bioscience supports the first bedside genetic test.

For some cardiac patients, recovery from a common heart procedure can be complicated by a single gene responsible for drug processing. The risk could be lowered with the first bedside genetic test of its kind. The test shows promise for quickly and easily identifying patients who need a different medication.

After a patient receives a heart stent—a small scaffold that props open an artery—his or her doctor will prescribe a blood thinner to prevent platelets from building up inside the device. However, for some 70 percent of patients with Asian ancestry and 30 percent of patients with African or European ancestry, a single genetic variant will prevent one of the most commonly prescribed blood thinners from working. Alternatives exist, but they are more expensive, so hospitals could use an easy way to identify who does and does not need the more expensive drug.

Canada’s Spartan Bioscience has developed a near “plug-and-play” genotyping device that allows nurses and others to quickly screen patients at the bedside, perhaps while they are undergoing the stent placement procedure. Users take a DNA sample from a patient’s cheek with a specialized swab, add the sample to a disposable tube, and then place the tube and sample in a proprietary shoebox-sized machine and hit a button. Shortly thereafter, the user receives a printout of the patient’s genetic status for the drug-processing variant. The whole procedure takes about an hour. Most clinicians currently have to wait several days for similar information to come from off-site genetics testing companies.

“For six years we’ve been plugging away at this, and we finally broke through about a year and a half ago,” says Spartan Bioscience founder Paul Lem. He says the simple test came to life with innovations at every step—from the special swab that collects the right amount of DNA, to the chemicals in the disposable reaction tube, to the software that automates the DNA reading—and a team with diverse backgrounds including his in medicine and molecular biology and others’ in optical hardware.

Lem has kept an eye on other companies trying to create a bedside genetic test, some going after the same variant, and calculates that over $1 billion in capital has been spent over the last five years in this area.

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute researchers conducted a proof-of-principle trial for the device and found that the bedside test is effective at quickly identifying carriers of the drug-processing variant and can be performed by nurses with minimal training. The findings were published in The Lancet last week.

“The stakes are pretty high” for the risks associated with the variant in the test, says Euan Ashley, a cardiologist with Stanford’s Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease. Patients who receive a stent implant after a heart attack or as a preventive measure are at risk for serious adverse events if their bodies cannot process a commonly prescribed anti-platelet drug into its active form. “There’s a startling number of people who carry the variant, which leaves them at risk,” says Ashley. “Being able to get an answer within an hour or two—when you are thinking of a patient’s heart—is a pretty compelling case for [testing for it].”

2 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Spartan Bioscience

Tagged: Biomedicine, DNA, drug delivery, cardiac, genotype

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me