10 October 2012
An innovative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique could open the door for early-stage coronary heart disease to be better detected.
The potential medical breakthrough has been realised as a result of research carried out by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In their study, details of which have been published online in the journal Radiology, the researchers claim that they are one step closer to creating an imaging technique that can be used to detect the thickening of a coronary artery wall.
Such a finding is particularly significant seeing as though narrowed arteries are linked to the early stages of coronary heart disease.
The study's lead researcher Dr Khaled Z Abd-Elmoniem, a staff scientist in the Biomedical and Metabolic Imaging branch of NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, is hopeful that their investigation can finally overcome one of the biggest pitfalls seen in the medical industry.
Dr Abd-Elmoniem explained that creating detailed images of functioning coronary arteries that function to supply blood to the heart have long been "extremely difficult". This is because these particular arteries are minuscule in size and obviously have to constantly be in a working motion.
However, he underlined: "Obtaining a reliable and accurate image of these vessels is very important because thickening of the vessel wall is an early indicator of atherosclerosis."
The NIH researchers' work could provide a huge step towards making this vision a reality.
In their study, the scientists used two variations of MRI to measure the wall thickness of the coronary arteries of 26 patients with at least one risk factor of coronary heart disease and 12 people deemed healthy control participants.
Each of the individuals studied either underwent a single-frame MRI scan or a separate technique known as time-resolved multi-frame acquisition. The latter strategy varies from the single-frame scan as it captures five continuous images.
The results revealed that there was a success rate of 90 per cent for obtaining a useable image in those provided with the time-resolved technique. However, the success rate slipped to 76 per cent in those undertaking a single-frame scan.
Furthermore, the time-resolved multi-frame acquisition was found to be better at identifying a significant difference between the wall thickness measurements of patients at risk of developing coronary heart disease and those taken part in the study who were deemed healthy.
Dr Abd-Elmoniem added: "These results suggest that MRI may be used in the future to screen for individuals at risk for coronary artery disease and may be useful for monitoring the effects of therapies."
The early findings of the benefits of the unique MRI technique will provide good reading for British medical professionals in particular. This is because around 82,000 deaths occur in the UK each year as a result of coronary heart disease, making it the country's biggest killer.
As if the high annual mortality rates were not enough, it is also estimated by the NHS that around 2.7 million people are living with the condition.
There are a number of lifestyle changes that people could adopt to reduce their risk of suffering from coronary heart disease, including being physically active, choosing not to smoke or giving up the habit, eating a healthy and balanced diet and being keen to control both the body's blood cholesterol and sugar levels.
However, Roderic Pettigrew, the director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the senior collaborator of the NIH study, believes that the findings already discovered by Dr Abd-Elmoniem and company offer "practical promise" of identifying the disease before it is too late.
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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