Researchers using CT detect arterial disease in Egyptian mummies

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Using a CT scanner, scientists have determined that people who lived as many as 3,500 years ago suffered from atherosclerosis.

A research team, using Siemens Healthcare's Somatom Emotion 6 CT scanner, examined 20 mummies from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. The team concentrated on scanning the arterial vessels and found that nine of 16 mummies in which they were able to identify blood vessels had calcium deposits in their artery walls, suggesting they suffered from arterial clogging.

Vascular calcifications were seen in both male and female mummies. They had lived between 1750 BCE and 364 CE and those who could be identified had all been of elevated social status.

“We combined the science which they developed 3,500 years ago with the 21st century technology of a high precision instrument, the Siemens Somatom Emotion 6-slice configuration CT scanner, and were able to learn about health and disease across the ages,” said Randall Thompson, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. “The mummies have portions of the cardiovascular system intact, which were clearly recognizable. On these CT scans, the atherosclerosis looks just like it does in my modern-day patients.

"The technology allowed us to discover that this disease has afflicted humans since before the time of Moses and is giving us insights into modern human health. We are able to achieve these insights without disturbing the remains of these people who walked the earth such a long time ago,” Thompson said.

Considering that signs of atherosclerosis were found in people who lived thousands of years ago, the findings “suggest that we may have to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand the disease,” said Gregory Thomas, MD, clinical professor of cardiology at the University of California, Irvine.