THI Researchers Introduce Method for Earlier Identification of Patients at High Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke Due to Inflamed Arterial Plaque

Published in Scientific REPORTS (2018) Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Atherosclerotic Plaque at Clinically Relevant Field Strengths (1T) by Targeting the Integrin α4β1. Woodside DG, Tanifum EA, Ghaghada KB, Biediger RJ, Caivano AR, Starosolski ZA, Khounlo S, Bhayana S, Abbasi S, Craft JW Jr, Maxwell DS, Patel C, Stupin IV, Bakthavatsalam D, Market RV, Willerson JT, Dixon RAF, Vanderslice P, Annapragada AV. Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 27;8(1):3733.

Researchers in the Department of Molecular Cardiology at the Texas Heart Institute (THI), in collaboration with investigators at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, have developed a promising non-invasive imaging technique that could help detect inflammation in plaque buildup in coronary arteries long before patients experience symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Coronary artery disease develops when plaque accumulates in a coronary artery leading to hardening of the artery (atherosclerosis). This accumulation prevents blood flow to the heart, causing coronary artery disease. Inflammatory cells contribute to plaque formation and may be important determinants in acute events like heart attack and stroke.

Treating risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, has reduced mortality rates. However, these same risk factors are poor indicators of sudden, serious, and recurrent cardiovascular events. There are currently no non-invasive imaging tools readily available for clinical use to identify patients at high risk of having an acute event due to inflamed atherosclerotic plaque.

More than two decades ago, Dr. James T. Willerson and colleagues at THI identified a receptor on vascular cells that directs inflammatory cells to atherosclerotic plaques. Building on this research, the scientists in the project collaborated to design a targeted imaging contrast agent that binds to this receptor to identify inflamed atherosclerotic plaque.

The research team’s article, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Atherosclerotic Plaque at Clinically Relevant Field Strengths (1T) by Targeting the Integrin α4β1,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports, by the Nature Publishing Group.

This important work was accomplished through a collaboration between three pioneering research groups: Dr. Darren G. Woodside and the THI research team; Dr. Ananth V. Annapragada and his group from the Department of Pediatric Radiology at TCH; and the investigators in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“Our specific molecular targeting technique could have advantages over current non-invasive imaging approaches as it does not involve radiation exposure, can be used in MRI scanners that are widely available, and may be used to deliver therapeutic agents,” said Dr. Darren Woodside, Associate Director of the Molecular Cardiology Research Laboratories at THI.

A non-invasive technique with this capability could allow physicians to more accurately characterize patient risk and possibly guide future clinical trials.

Read the full Scientific Reports article here.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Atherosclerotic Plaque at Clinically Relevant Field Strengths (1T) by Targeting the Integrin α4β Woodside DG, Tanifum EA, Ghaghada KB, Biediger RJ, Caivano AR, Starosolski ZA, Khounlo S, Bhayana S, Abbasi S, Craft JW Jr, Maxwell DS, Patel C, Stupin IV, Bakthavatsalam D, Market RV, Willerson JT, Dixon RAF, Vanderslice P, Annapragada AV. Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 27;8(1):3733.

This work was partially funded by the Cullen Trust for Heath Care and State of Texas Funding for the Texas Heart Institute.

Special thank you to Payton Campbell for her assistance with this news story.


About Texas Heart Institute

The Texas Heart Institute (THI), founded by world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley in 1962, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the devastating toll of cardiovascular disease through innovative and progressive programs in research, education and improved patient care. More information about THI (@Texas_Heart) is available at www.texasheart.org.