Ways to See Potentially Dangerous Cholesterol Plaques Earlier

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Researchers are developing a new tool in the battle against heart attacks and stroke. As Brad Kloza explains, they’re finding a way to spot dangerous plaque deposits before they can cause medical problems.

Doctor Edward Fisher listens to Barbara Thau’s heart. Thau started watching her high cholesterol after losing her brother to a heart attack.

“It was a frightening moment for me, because he was so young and he was my brother. It wasn’t the older generation. It was even closer,” Thau explained.

Doctor Fisher has her on cholesterol-lowering drugs. Cholesterol forms dangerous plaque deposits in the arteries that can rupture, causing a heart attack or stroke. Now Dr. Fisher and his colleague Zahi Fayad want to spot plaques at risk of rupturing.

“Until we’re able to get imaging methods that tell us more about the characteristics of your deposits, we’re left with treating everybody more or less, the same way,” explained Dr. Fisher, with the NYU School of Medicine.

They’ve already tested their technique on mice. They use a particle similar to the “good type” of cholesterol known as HDL. That particle naturally targets plaque. They combine it with a material that lights up in MRI scans. That lets the doctors pinpoint where treatment is needed.

“When we inject the contrast agent, suddenly the bad element ends up shining up like a Christmas tree,” explained Dr. Fayad of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

The researchers reported to the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, that with this technique, dangerous plaque showed up nearly 80 percent brighter on MRI scans. The new technique still needs to be tested in people, but the researchers hope that it could shine a light on one’s risk for heart attack or stroke.

Doctor Fisher said that tests in people could happen in less than two years. For more on how a heart attack or stroke occurs, go to www.sciencentral.com.