cardiovascular disease

Imaging Technique May Aid Atherosclerosis Diagnosis

A team led by researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh have discovered an imaging technique that it hopes can help better diagnose and treat atherosclerosis.
The authors injected a group of patients with the radiotracer version of sodium fluoride (18F-NaF), using a combination of positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET/CT) to track the tracer as it moved throughout the body. Following the scans, the patients underwent surgery to remove the plaques in their arteries. The investigators relied on a laboratory PET/CT scanner and electron microscope to then evaluate the plaques at a higher resolution, which they say confirmed that the 18F-NaF tracer built up in areas of active, unstable calcium deposits, and not in surrounding tissue.

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While noting that the 18F-NaF tracer could ultimately offer a cost-effective and non-invasive way to detect the early stages of calcification in unstable atherosclerosis, and help lead to the development of new drugs to treat atherosclerosis, the authors point out that further investigation is needed.
“Right now, the research we have done here is at an early stage,” says James Rudd, PhD, FRCP, FESC, a senior lecturer in the division of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge, and co-author of the study.
“We do not have any idea as to whether early detection of vulnerable plaques in the coronary arteries can lead to any improvement in patient outcomes,” says Rudd, noting that the researchers are currently undertaking larger, clinical studies.
“What we can say is that our work, and that of others in this area, is leading to a better understanding of the pathology atherosclerosis,” he says, adding that “we also hope that PET imaging with NaF might also have a role in testing new drugs in heart disease.”
—Mark McGraw
Irkle A, Vesey A, et al. Identifying active vascular microcalcification by 18F-sodium fluoride positron emission tomography. Nature Communications. 2015.