22 November 1999

Teen Heart Risk Testing

by Kate Melville

In Australia the CSIRO has developed a diagnostic test that can predict whether young adults and teenagers are at risk of developing hypertension (a potentially fatal condition in which blood pressure is abnormally high).

Hypertension affects up to 25 per cent of the population aged over 40, and plays a part in 500,000 deaths in the US alone each year. Hypertension contributes to complications such as heart disease or heart failure, stroke or brain damage and is a leading cause of health problems in men over 50. Reduction of blood pressure through improved exercise and diet is an important factor in managing hypertension.

The new test is designed to assess an individuals predisposition to hypertension by using a mouthwash to extract human cheek epithelial cells. These cells then have their sodium ion transport activity measured, because according to Dr Ted McMurchie, from the CSIRO, "This process shows that sodium transport activity is about 50 per cent lower in adults with high blood pressure, compared to the normal population.

But what we have also found is that adolescents and young adults who have a significantly lower rate of sodium transport in their cheek cells are those who at greater risk of later development of hypertension."

To commercialise this research the CSIRO still needs to find a business partner to develop and refine the technology as it currently uses a radioisotope, not something your average doctor has lying around in his or her surgery.

It seems a bit ironic that in an age where countries like Australia spend millions on preventative health campaigns and can develop advanced diagnostic tests, that research indicates their adults and children are getting fatter and less healthy?