British Columbia

New cholesterol skin test raises expert concerns

A new $20 test for cholesterol that some B.C. pharmacies are introducing is stirring up controversy in the medical community.

Test should not replace blood testing, say experts

The new skin test allows pharmacists to measure the level of skin cholesterol. (CBC)

A new $20 test for cholesterol that some B.C. pharmacies are introducing is stirring up controversy in the medical community.

Winnipeg bio-tech company Miraculins says the desire for fast and convenient cholesterol test results prompted the creation of their device.

It allows pharmacists to scan the palm of someone's hand and analyze how much cholesterol is in the skin.

UBC cardiologist Dr. John Mancini sees some benefit to the convenience of the tests. 

"This is like a thermometer; it tells you if you are worried and you have got a bit of a fever. It heightens the chance of you having a chat with your doctor," he said.

But Dr. Daniel Holmes, the head of clinical chemistry as St. Paul's hospital has his reservations.

He notes each test administered by a pharmacist costs $19.99, but a traditional blood test is covered by the province.

"I wouldn't spend $19.99 for the test. I wouldn't spend $1.99 for it. There are lots of people who are willing to take your money for testing that is not well scientifically validated," he said.

Holmes says the device should not replace blood testing. He recommends anyone concerned about their cholesterol should save their money and just take the time to consult a physician.

London Drugs to introduce testing

The Miraculins company has partnered with London Drugs to introduce the testing at its Metro Vancouver and one Winnipeg stores this month, with plans to expand the testing to stores across western Canada in 2013.

'We have a longstanding tradition of bringing new, innovative and meaningful technologies to our customers and we are most impressed with the science behind the PreVu POC Test," London Drugs vice president John Tse said in a statement earlier this year.

According to the manufacture's website the testing device measures cholesterol in the skin, which accumulates along with cholesterol in arterial walls as people age.

"This simple test is conducted by placing a drop of digitonin, which binds selectively to the cholesterol in the skin, on the palm of the hand," said a statement on the company website.

"This liquid also contains an enzyme (horseradish peroxidase) linked to the digitonin by a copolymer. After a one-minute incubation period, the area is blotted dry to remove any unbound digitonin solution."

"A second drop of liquid is then added, containing a substrate for the horseradish peroxidase enzyme.  When combined, a blue color change occurs in direct proportion to the amount of digitonin that is bound to skin cholesterol."

"After two minutes, a hand-held spectrophotometer (color reader) is placed over the drop to measure the precise blue color, which indicates the skin cholesterol value."