27 Feb 2016

Heart attack warning

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 27 February 2016
Human Heart

Human Heart Photo: Bryan Brandenburg CC BY-SA 3.0

An early warning ?

Scientists could have discovered an early warning system to detect heart attacks, the leading cause of death worldwide.

Heart attacks occur when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart itself, become blocked. 

Now Imperial College cardiologist Ramzi Khamis and his colleagues, writing in Nature Scientific Reports, have identified a way to pinpoint damage in blood vessels in mice that could cause a future heart attack.

The technique involves injecting an antibody that recognises and attaches itself to oxidised cholesterol linked to the greatest risk of heart attacks. This antibody is marked and can easily be picked up on medical imaging equipment.

Dr Chris Smith of the Naked Scientists says current approaches can only detect where the arteries are narrowed, not the specific "hotspots" where they are most at risk of rupture and blockage. 

"At the moment, the gold standard treatment is to inflate a small balloon against the blockage inside a clogged artery, and then prop open the vessel using a wire cage called a stent, which is inserted down a wire temporarily placed inside the artery, " Dr Smith said. 

But Dr Khamis speculates that in the future this might not be necessary.

"We're now working on a way to use these antibodies also to deliver drugs to the diseased areas that need them...that will damp down the disease process in the artery wall and prevent further damage or even reverse it."