Researchers have developed a new technology that can warn patients that they are at risk of deadly heart attacks years before these will likely happen.
The new biomarker called Fat Attenuation Index (FAI) is based on analysis of computed tomography (CT) coronary angiograms, imaging tests that look at the arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Heart attacks are often the result of inflamed plaques in the coronary artery that abruptly blocks the blood that goes to the heart.
Knowing which of these plaques are more more likely to cause dangerous blockages and which patients should be provided with more aggressive therapies is crucial to predicting potentially fatal cardiovascular events.
Oxford Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Charalambos Antoniades and colleagues have developed a technology that detects the inflamed plaques prone to cause heart attacks by analyzing the CT images of the fats that surround the arteries.
The researchers have shown that the most dangerous plaques release chemical messengers that modify the surrounding fat.
In a study that tested the Fat Attenuation Index, the researchers involved 3,900 patients who were tracked for 10 years after they had a CT coronary angiogram.
Antoniades and colleagues found the FAI technology was able to predict deadly heart attacks many years before they happen. The predictive accuracy of the technology was also found to be significantly superior compared with other methods.
The researchers found that individuals with abnormal FAI had nine times increased risk of having fatal heart attacks in the next five years. These patients would be the ideal candidates to receive aggressive medical therapy to prevent heart events from happening.
“This new technology may prove transformative for primary and secondary prevention,” Antoniades said in a statement published by the University of Oxford.
“Knowing who is at increased risk for a heart attack could allow us to intervene early enough to prevent it. I expect these biomarkers to become an essential part of standard CT coronary angiography reporting in the coming years.”
Figures from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease each year. The number is equivalent to one in every four deaths in the country. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease. It is responsible for over 370,000 deaths per year.
The researchers reported their findings in a study published in The Lancet journal and presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich.