Because atherosclerotic plaque typically builds up without symptoms and leads to more than 1 million deaths in America each year, the search is on to develop early detection devices that will enable physicians to offer treatment before the disease progresses to advanced stages.
Now, in a study involving laboratory rabbits, a device that stimulates, collects and measures light emissions from body tissues has been able to detect the presence of inflammatory cells that are associated with critical atherosclerotic plaques in humans – plaques that are vulnerable to rupture. The study is described in the August 2005 issue of the journal Atherosclerosis.
Recent atherosclerosis research has found that the composition of plaque and its "vulnerability" to rupture may be more significant than the degree of arterial blockage as a precursor to heart attack and stroke. The lining (intima) of a normal artery consists of several thin layers of cells and connective tissue. Segments containing stable atherosclerotic plaque become thickened with collagen while sections of vulnerable plaque are infiltrated by macrophages. In humans, the inflammatory process weakens the plaques thin, fibrous cap, often leading to rupture of the plaque and blockage of blood vessels.
Sandy Van | EurekAlert!
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