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Emelianov Receives Funds to Detect Plaques that Cause Heart Attacks

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Although most heart attacks are caused by atherosclerotic plaques, not all of these artery blockages are created equal. Some are more likely to cause heart attacks than others. Plaques with a higher lipid content and thin fibrous layer protecting it from the blood are particularly likely to cause heart attacks. The larger the lipid pool, the more likely a blood clot can rapidly form, resulting in a heart attack.

Current imaging techniques work well to detect the presence of the plaques, but they do not identify the composition of the plaques, such as those with a larger lipid pool.

Professor Stanislav Emelianov and researchers, Dr. Andrei Karpiouk, Don Van Der Laan, and Dr. Doug Yeager are using a combination of intravascular ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging techniques to locate lipids within atherosclerotic plaques.

The approach is a minimally invasive, catheter-based technique where traditional pulse/echo ultrasound coupled with photoacoustic imaging, would give clinicians accurate information about the distribution of lipids within plaques.

Today, physicians use techniques such as CT scans to detect artery structure and where calcifications are in the arteries, but these scans cannot discern the plaques' molecular composition.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Professor Stanislav Emelianov a four-year $3 million RO1 grant to continue work on clinical translation of these intravascular ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging techniques to identify vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques. The new grant will allow researchers to conduct more complex experiments, imaging plaques in real-time in animals.

The overall goal of this research is to develop more effective imaging techniques to prevent heart attacks as well as to possibly treat them. Current treatments for coronary heart disease are mainly mechanically based; bypass surgery is used to detour blood around blockages and stents are used to push back plaques. Researchers say there is potential for this work to move forward light-based therapies that detect blockages to also treat vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques.