Drs. Derek So and Jason Roberts of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

The world’s first bedside genetic test is drawing international attention to two Ottawa Heart Institute physicians and will likely save lives.

In an online advance report yesterday, the prominent medical journal The Lancet published a study by co-authors Drs. Derek So and Jason Roberts, showing that a simple cheek swab can quickly determine how a patient will react to medication after surgery to open their clogged arteries with a stent.   

“We’re excited about it, just in terms of what it means for what medicine will look like in the future,” said Dr. Roberts from the Heart Institute’s University of Ottawa lab.

“We’re on the cusp of personalized medicine. Right now, during treatment we give the same drugs to everyone, but that’s not necessarily going to work for each patient.”

Every year, the Ottawa Heart Institute alone treats 500 emergency heart attacks with cardiac stents and many more patients with chest pain from exertion, said Dr. Roberts.

To maintain the stent, these patients take a standard drug treatment called Plavix. However, thousands of people with a genetic variation have reactions that lead to another heart attack or death.

Developed in partnership with Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience over seven months, the cheek swab test returns results within minutes rather than the weeks required for most genetic tests, said Roberts.

“Spartan simplified the procedure and made it useful in a clinical setting,” he said. “We recognized the need for this kind of technology and they had the technical expertise to develop it.”

Roberts says he has been buoyed by the response from medical professionals and is enthusiastic that The Lancet ran an editorial alongside the study.

“There are a variety of diseases where there are genetic markers that influence risk and response to treatment,” Roberts said. “We’re in the very early stages of what this technology means for tailoring medical treatment for each patient.”

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