New imaging marker able to view cholesterol buildup

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A medical imaging marker designed to specifically target and illuminate areas of cholesterol buildup in the heart has been developed. The marker has been designed to give physicians a precise view of cholesterol plaques from within blood vessels, MIT's Technology Review reports.
"None of the technology we have looks directly at what's happening in vessels, and two-thirds of heart attacks occur in vessels," Zahi Fayad, a professor of medicine and radiology at Mount Sinai who led the research, told Technology Review.
Numerous noninvasive imaging modalities can get images of plaque buildup, but aren’t as good at providing information regarding unstable plaque.
"The real danger of heart attacks comes from the rupture of unstable plaque, not necessarily thick plaque," said David Cormode, a postdoctoral researcher at Mount Sinai who helped design the contrast agent. "Unstable plaques are extremely thin and difficult to image in detail."
The contrast agent designed by Fayed and his team is based on a synthetic version of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which can cross the vessel lining allowing views inside, which has been a hurdle for researchers. For the study, mice were injected with the labeling molecule. Through this practice the researchers observed a 79 percent increase in the detection of cholesterol in mice with plaque buildup, Technology Review reports.
"It's like a smart bomb that goes directly to the plaque," said Fayad. "We were able to see plaque in high contrast."
The team plans to soon try out the contrast agent on larger animals such as rabbits and pigs.