Researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) have discovered a new method for identifying individuals who are at high risk for heart attack or stroke. A team led by Dr. Katey Rayner has found that dying cells in arterial plaque deposits can weaken arteries and can be used as a marker for plaques that can rupture and lead to serious cardiovascular events. The study, published in Science Advances, details how cardiac imaging can be used to identify the high-risk plaques and illustrates the potential for therapeutic interventions.
The build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries causes blood vessels to narrow over time and leads to coronary artery disease. Many of these plaques remain stable indefinitely, but others become unstable and have the potential to rupture and block blood flow to parts of the heart or brain. The result can be a debilitating heart attack or stroke.
The UOHI scientists found that dying cells within unstable plaques can be seen using a particular radiotracer with non-invasive imaging. Such imaging techniques could be used to identify not just individuals at high risk for cardiac events, but the specific location in their arteries where the danger lies. The researchers also confirmed the potential of this pathway as a target for medical therapy. By treating unstable plaques in a mouse model, they showed that both the instability and the size of the plaques are reduced.
“Understanding this process and being able to target these cells will have a significant application in the diagnosis and future treatment of these vulnerable plaques. This research is exciting because we can prove that some patients with coronary artery disease could be at greater risk than others for heart attacks,” said Dr. Rayner, Director of the Cardiometabolic microRNA Laboratory and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa.
“These remarkable findings address one of the ‘Holy Grail’ questions in coronary artery disease – i.e., ‘Who will get a heart attack tomorrow?’ Dr. Rayner’s study opens the door to make this a reality for our patients and patients worldwide. This is a great example of our inspired research teams working relentlessly in bringing the latest innovations in cardiovascular research to the bedside, for the benefit of science and our patients,” said Dr. Peter Liu, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President of Research at UOHI.
The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is Canada’s largest and foremost heart health centre dedicated to understanding, treating and preventing heart disease. UOHI delivers high-tech care with a personal touch, shapes the way cardiovascular medicine is practised and revolutionizes cardiac treatment and understanding. It builds knowledge through research and translates discoveries into advanced care. UOHI serves the local, national and international community, and is pioneering a new era in heart health.