Spotting and hearing heart attacks before they strike

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If heart attacks blared a warning signal, patients would have a better chance of avoiding them. That’s the idea behind a new imaging technique developed.

In a new study from Michigan State University, researchers find a method to spot and hear heart attacks before they strike.

They shine light into an artery where they have delivered certain types of particles that can absorb that light.

As a product of the release of that energy, they can literally shout back at us in ways that we can detect and use to create 3D images.

To be clear, the sound signal isn’t audible to human ears, but it’s easily captured by an ultrasound transducer.

Thanks to the team, this technique can now be used to directly image atherosclerotic plaques, the medical term for fatty clumps that accumulate in arteries that can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

The researchers showcased the new technique in mice, the first step towards advancing the technology for use in humans.

Although it’s difficult to prove whether a particular plaque is responsible for a stroke or heart attack in a patient, the prevailing idea is that vulnerable plaque are the most dangerous.

These are inflammatory plaques that can rupture and consequently block blood vessels.

In addition to fatty deposits, vulnerable plaques also contain lots of immune cells, including many macrophages and monocytes.

In the study, the team developed nanoparticles — tiny tubules made of carbon atoms — that naturally and specifically seek out these cells.

In injecting the particles into mice, researchers send the tubes searching for specific immune cells that congregate in plaques. The researchers can then shine laser light into the arteries.

If there is a plaque present, the particles will absorb the light and emit sound waves. The researchers then use this acoustic signal to locate and visualize the plaque.

The idea behind coupling light and sound, known as the photoacoustic effect, dates back to Alexander Graham Bell in the late 1800s.

Still, to go from that idea to a medical diagnostic required the development of crucial technologies such as lasers and ultrasounds.

The technique is now coming of age with the Food and Drug Administration approving a photoacoustic imaging machine for detecting breast cancer earlier this year.

In the future, doctors may image arterial plaques in a precise and noninvasive way through the team’s innovations with nanoparticles.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about this vitamin may hide heart attacks if you use it too much and findings of this drug combo may reduce your risks of heart attack and stroke.

For more information about heart disease, please see recent studies about doing this after a heart attack could increase survival and results showing that this common antibiotic drug linked to higher heart attack risk.

The study is published in Advanced Functional Materials. One author of the study is Bryan Smith.

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