Can we predict a heart attack?

11 November 2013        

Dr Marc Dweck - BHF Researcher

A new imaging technique could find people at highest risk of a heart attack. There is currently no way to find those people. We’ve funded this major breakthrough that could change that.

When fatty deposits, known as plaques, build up in the arteries and rupture, it can cause a heart attack. 200 people die each day from a heart attack. The new test, developed at the University of Edinburgh and led by BHF Clinical Lecturer Dr Marc Dweck (pictured), detects the fatty plaques on the brink of rupture.

Cutting-edge technology

Fatty plaques at risk of rupture ‘lit up’ in some patients while they had a PET-CT scan during a clinical trial. Over 90 per cent of people scanned, who had had a heart attack recently, had a lit-up area in one of their blood vessels, corresponding exactly to the location of the plaque that caused their heart attack.

About 40 per cent of patients with angina also had a plaque that lit up yellow, as well as high-risk features suggesting a heart attack may be imminent, and aggressive treatment would be required.

What's next?

 Professor Peter Weissberg, our Medical Director, said:

Nearly 20 years of BHF-funded research has led us to this point.


“Being able to identify dangerous fatty plaques likely to cause a heart attack is something that conventional heart tests can’t do. This research suggests that PET-CT scanning may provide an answer – identifying ‘ticking time bomb’ patients at risk of a heart attack.

“Nearly 20 years of BHF-funded research has led us to this point. We now need to confirm these findings, and then understand how best to use new tests like this in the clinic to benefit heart patients.”

The research was published in The Lancet. 

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