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13 July 2017

Media release

Baker Institute scientists use near-infrared fluorescence laser light to detect high-risk atherosclerotic plaques

Melbourne researchers have discovered how near-infrared fluorescence light can be used to reliably identify high-risk atherosclerotic plaques that typically lead to heart attack and stroke.

Whilst current imaging technology such as coronary angiogram can identify obstructive plaques, it doesn’t specifically identify the unstable and vulnerable plaque that may lead to plaque rupture and consequently, to heart attacks. This approach by researchers from Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute allows identification of atherosclerotic plaques that are prone to rupture and are classified as high-risk.

The quest to develop a method to reliably identify high-risk plaques is seen by many as the ‘holy grail of contemporary cardiovascular medicine’, and the novel findings by Baker Institute scientists, outlined in Nature Communications, bring this goal a step closer.

Through preclinical studies, the team at the Baker Institute led by Professor Karlheinz Peter in collaboration with scientists at Monash University and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have developed a model based on the identification of intraplaque haemorrhage (or bleeding into the plaque) as a sign of plaque instability, thereby identifying the plaques at high-risk. This work is focused on the carotid and coronary arteries where the consequences of unstable plaque are most deadly, either by causing strokes or heart attacks, respectively.

This pioneering work means that people might one day be given definitive answers about their risk of a coronary event. For people who have had a heart attack and are at greater risk of further cardiovascular events, the discovery could provide surety about their future cardiovascular risk. Similarly, people with a strong family history of heart disease may also benefit from this approach.

This novel technology would then provide the opportunity to apply preventive treatment and prevent further cardiovascular events which are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality. Repeat heart attacks, for example, are more likely to be fatal. In 2010, one in five repeat heart attacks was fatal compared to one in ten from an initial heart attack.

Professor Peter said the next step was to test this approach in large randomised and controlled clinical studies and ultimately, use laser near-infrared light via an intracoronary catheter.

The team is now looking for investors to help develop a device that can one day be used in cardiac catheter laboratories to provide patients with reliable information about future risk of cardiovascular events.

For further information or to organise interviews please contact:

Tracey Ellis
03 8532 1514
M: 0433 781 972
E:  tracey.ellis@baker.edu.au

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