Researchers develop new early warning scan for heart attacks

12 July 2017        

Category: Research

An image from a heart scan

Researchers that we fund at the University of Oxford have developed a new type of imaging test to provide an early warning of coronary artery disease, and the risk of heart attacks.

The new imaging technique will improve the diagnosis and management of coronary artery disease, enabling timely prevention strategies and improving the treatment of thousands of people living with the disease. The findings have been published in Science Translational Medicine.

Plaques cause heart attacks

Coronary artery disease occurs when atherosclerotic plaques build up in the arteries that serve the heart. These plaques cause the vessels to narrow, and when they block without warning they lead to a heart attack.

Looking for vulnerable plaques

Currently, diagnostic methods rely on detecting damage that has already been caused by these plaques – when the damage is irreversible and treatment options are often limited. This new technique will allow doctors to identify vulnerable plaques that are prone to sudden blockages, flagging the individuals at highest risk for heart attacks.

Avoiding a heart attack

Professor Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation who part-funded the study, said:

“Each year in the UK over 100,000 people die from a heart attack or stroke that has been caused by the rupture of a fatty deposit inside an artery, called a plaque. Discovering which plaques are likely to rupture, so people can be treated before such a devastating event strikes, is a major objective of current research. 

“This new method, based on the imaging of cells surrounding arteries, could allow doctors to assess fatty plaques by a non-invasive scan and to see how they change with disease progression or treatment.

“If the technique lives up to its promise in larger trials in patients, it could lead to more effective treatment to avoid a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.”

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