As long as heart disease is the number one killer in America, scientists will be striving to develop more sophisticated ways of studying clogged cardiac arteries. Dr. Fayad at Mount Sinai and his team are developing radio-opaque artificial HDL to help them visualize the cholesterol that leads to heart attacks.
Fayad and his colleagues designed a synthetic version of HDL and added gadolinium, a standard chemical that is detectable by MRI. They injected the labeling molecule into the tail veins of mice with and without cholesterol buildup. After 24 hours, they observed a 79 percent increase in the detection of cholesterol in mice with plaque buildup compared with images taken the day before, according to research presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society last month. Areas with greater plaque buildup appeared brighter. The researchers saw no change in mouse controls.
“It’s like a smart bomb that goes directly to the plaque,” says Fayad. “We were able to see plaque in high contrast.”
In their images, the team also detected accumulations of macrophages–killer cells that invade areas of injury or inflammation such as plaque buildup. These macrophages secrete enzymes that Fayad says “eat up” plaque, making it unstable and more likely to rupture, which in turn could lead to heart attacks. Being able to detect these cells early on could help identify people at high risk of heart disease, as well as help develop treatments and lifestyle changes before their condition worsens.
Read more at MIT’s Technology Review . . .