Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have for the first time developed a way to visualise coronary artery plaques vulnerable to rupture using multi-colour computed tomography (CT), an innovation that will lead to better and earlier diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.
Ruptures of atherosclerotic plaques are the cause of nearly 70% of heart attacks. High density lipoproteins (HDL) – otherwise known as “good” cholesterol – are drawn to plaques vulnerable to rupture and remove them from the arterial wall.
In tests performed on mice, the Mount Sinai team injected them with a version of HDL containing tiny gold particles. By using a sophisticated multi-colour CT scanner, the researchers were able to highlight HDL activity in the arterial wall, as the gold particles illuminated the location of the vulnerable plaques.
“The use of multi-colour CT and gold nanoparticles to visualise plaque will revolutionise cardiac imaging,” said research team leader, Zahi A Fayad, director of the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The acquisition of this technology and development of this method will help us improve cardiovascular disease diagnosis in our patients, furthering our commitment to translational research.”
Conventional CT detectors provide a gray image of the artery being studied, and do not provide contrast to differentiate types and density of tissue. In addition to showing the impact of the gold particles, spectral CT can simultaneously distinguish calcium deposits and contrast agents used such as iodine – often used to identify stenoses – or the narrowing of arteries, informing the severity of atherosclerosis and heart attack risk.
“There is a significant unmet need for imaging technology that visualises plaque vulnerable to rupture,” said the lead author of the work, Dr David Cormode, of the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The fact that the multi-colour CT technique shows the gold particles, iodine and calcifications, provides us with a more complete picture of the nature of the atherosclerotic arteries.”
Multi-colour CT technology may also be beneficial in imaging other biological process and diseases, including cancer, kidney disease, and bowel diseases. The Mount Sinai team plans to continue studying the new scanner in additional animal studies and in humans.