Detecting deadly heart attack causing plaques

25 February 2016        

Colourful imaging of a fatty plaque which has accumulated in an artery

New research published by our researchers in the scientific journal Scientific Reports could make it easier for doctors to identify risky fatty plaques that could cause a heart attack or stroke.

Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty plaques in the walls of the arteries that lead to the brain or heart. If an atherosclerotic plaque ruptures, a deadly blood clot can form and block the blood supply to the heart or brain, causing either a heart attack or stroke. Each year in the UK over 100,000 people die after suffering from these events.

Looking inside arteries

The team at Imperial College London used a new optical technique to look at the amount of oxidised LDL (OxLDL), within atherosclerotic plaques in mice. OxLDL is known to play a major role in atherosclerosis and is present in high quantities in plaques most likely to lead to a heart attack or stroke. 

Improving treatment

Once identified doctors could then treat these plaques, either using targeted drugs or by implanting a stent in the affected areas.

The researchers are now working towards using the technique in people. The technique could eventually be used in hospitals to assess how likely an atherosclerotic plaque is to rupture.

Next steps

Lead researcher Dr Ramzi Khamis, consultant cardiologist and Independent Clinical Research Fellow at the National Heart and Lung Institute, said: 

“With this research we’re trying to pick out the plaques that are most likely to rupture before they cause a heart attack. Our next step will be to modify the technique that we’ve used here so that it can be used in patients to detect dangerous plaques. 

“We are also looking at the possibility of using the same antibody that we’ve developed to image the plaque to deliver drugs directly to the plaque itself. So, we have not only found a possible new diagnostic tool, we may also have discovered a new way to treat this deadly disease.”

Our Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Dorian Haskard said: "This exciting research breaks new ground in the molecular imaging of heart disease and could not have been achieved without funding from our generous supporters."

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