Is your heart sound? To answer that ques­tion, all assis­tant pro­fessor Shashi Murthy needs is a single drop of your blood.

Murthy, a member of Northeastern’s chem­ical engi­neering depart­ment, and his team of researchers have devel­oped a device that can mon­itor car­dio­vas­cular health by using just 200 micro­liters of blood.

The device, which is smaller than a slim cell phone, makes use of anti­bodies that nat­u­rally bind to endothe­lial prog­en­itor cells present in a blood sample. The greater the number of these cells, which studies show can repair dam­aged blood ves­sels, the greater your car­dio­vas­cular health.

Murthy, the project’s lead researcher, recently pub­lished a paper on his novel method of dis­ease detec­tion in a pub­li­ca­tion called the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ican Soci­eties for Exper­i­mental Biology Journal. Co-​​writers are Brian Plouffe, a chem­ical engi­neering doc­toral stu­dent at North­eastern and Virna Sales, a Har­vard Med­ical School instructor and a car­dio­vas­cular sur­geon at Children’s Hos­pital Boston.

Ear­lier this month, the team’s research was fea­tured in a local-​​news broad­cast on Boston’s WBZ-​​TV.

Heart dis­ease is cur­rently the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, more than 650,000 Amer­i­cans die from heart dis­ease each year, accounting for roughly 27 per­cent of all U.S. deaths.

Just knowing the number of [endothe­lial prog­en­itor] cells present in a sample is a mean­ingful bit of infor­ma­tion,” Murthy explains. “We will be able to essen­tially assess rel­a­tive car­dio­vas­cular health.”

It will take at least two years, Murthy says, before the diag­nostic tool reaches patients in hos­pi­tals across the country. Over the next sev­eral months, he and his team will begin to test the device’s reli­a­bility by studying blood sam­ples from patients known to be at risk or known not to be at risk for heart disease.

Even slightly less than 100 per­cent reli­a­bility is not accept­able,” says Murthy.

Even­tu­ally, Murthy hopes to move beyond using the device solely as a diag­nostic appli­ca­tion. It’s quite pos­sible, he explains, that it might someday help sci­en­tists repair dam­aged blood-​​vessel walls, less­ening the need for bypass surgery and treating such con­di­tions as heart arrhythmia. This is because endothe­lial prog­en­itor cells can be trans­formed into endothe­lial cells, the building blocks of blood vessels.

Such a feat would require that endothe­lial prog­en­itor cells be care­fully removed from a blood sample, enriched and per­haps even mul­ti­plied, then injected back into dam­aged tissue through a sur­gical pro­ce­dure. Murthy likens the as-​​yet the­o­ret­ical pro­ce­dure to a stem-​​cell or bone-​​marrow transplant.

It’s a dif­ferent starting mate­rial and a dif­ferent end point,” he says. “But the idea is the same.”

Although Murthy is proud of his team’s med­ical break­through, he won’t be con­tent until at-​​risk patients—heavy smokers, for example, or those with a family his­tory of heart disease—begin ben­e­fiting from the device.

Until the tech­nology is known to be very helpful to patients and society at large, I con­sider it an unfin­ished project,” he says.