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Computers replace human eye in heart attack warning

Cheap test strips for saliva, blood and urine to give early and accurate diagnosis of diseases from HIV to malaria have become widespread in modern medicine. They work by responding to chemical markers only found when a condition is present. The most common is the test which reacts to a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women.

But increasing sophistication means they can also be used to predict, often days in advance, an impending heart attack. A role once limited to expensive screening equipment only available in hospitals. If the marker is present, treatment can, in many cases, stop a patient suffering an attack.

However in developing countries, while the test strips for heart attack are attractive on cost grounds, their accurate interpretation proved a real stumbling block before research by Professors Zidong Wang and Xiaohui Liu at Brunel. They came up with an image processing algorithm which allows the strip to be rapidly read by machine, reducing the chances of human error while simultaneously cutting the cost of the test by £10 per patient.

Now being produced commercially and approved as safe by the Chinese health authorities the device is being rapidly rolled out across the country with the potential to save a million unnecessary and avoidable deaths each year.