Heart attacks and strokes: US and European scientists testing predictive scanning methods to detect artery deposits
By Kirstie Redford
A new scanning technique designed to predict heart attacks and strokes is currently being trialled in Europe and the US.
The technique combines two existing scanning methods - positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) imaging - to detect life-threatening deposits in the arteries called 'hot plaques', which can cut off the blood supply to the heart and cause a fatal heart attack or stroke.
The new scan specifically detects deposits that are unstable so doctors can identify patients most at risk and prescribe high doses of anticholesterol drugs to prevent the deposits breaking free.
The development of the technique has been pioneered by Dr James Rudd, a lecturer in cardiology at Cambridge University.
Dr Rudd predicts the technique will be used to test new drugs aimed at reducing death rates in heart disease and stroke. "If drug companies can show that a new drug they are testing can reduce inflammation using PET/CT imaging, then that is a lot cheaper than a large-scale clinical trial, which is the current way of testing new therapies," he said.
He added that further trials would hopefully define the place of PET/CT in the assessment of patients with heart disease and stroke.
The new scan is expected to become available in NHS hospitals over the next five years. However, private patients may have to wait longer. Bupa said it would need to assess the clinical evidence and efficacy of the combined scan before funding it for members. "We haven't received any requests from consultants to fund the scan so far," said Thomas Cook, a spokesperson for the provider.
The news followed another development in the prevention of heart disease. Research published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that women using one type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could be less at risk of developing heart disease.
The study of over 1,000 women by the Women's Health Initiative showed that those receiving oestrogen-only HRT had healthier arteries than those receiving a placebo.
Researchers said the results supported the protective role of oestrogen in coronary artery disease in women aged 50 to 59. However the study also concluded that the findings did not warrant HRT being used to prevent heart disease.
June Davison, cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, said further research would be needed before guidance around HRT could be changed.
"These results provide support for the hypothesis that if HRT is given to younger women it may even have some benefits for the heart and circulation.
"However, it is important to note that this study was not designed to see if HRT protected against coronary heart disease and further research is needed before we draw any definite conclusions," she said.
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